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Bill would raise state lawmakers' pay by $32,000 to $142,000 a year

WAER file photo
The State Capitol Building in Albany.

The New York State Legislature has introduced a bill to raise the salaries of senators and Assembly members in the new year to $142,000, which would make them the highest-paid state lawmakers in the nation.

Legislators’ base salary is currently $110,000, though committee chairs and those in leadership posts make much more than that.

The bill, introduced by the Democratic majorities in both houses of the Legislature, could be voted on as early as Thursday.

With the proposed raise of $142,000 a year, New York lawmakers would leapfrog over the highest-paid legislators in the nation. Right now, California’s base pay for state lawmakers is just under $120,000 a year.

Many legislators in New York City and surrounding areas have long argued that they need more money to keep up with the higher cost of living than in upstate regions.

Legislative leaders have not spoken publicly about the measure. But earlier in December, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie defended the idea of a pay raise.

“Personally, I believe that legislators need to be compensated for the hard work that they do,” Heastie said on Dec. 9. “People don’t realize the sacrifice that they make, being away from their families.”

Senate and Assembly posts are considered part time; the Legislature typically meets for just six full months a year. Many lawmakers consider it a full-time job, though, and work in their districts when they are not in session.

But others earn money through outside income, working in law firms or other businesses. Under the measure, outside income would be limited to just $35,000 per year.

There are exemptions for income earned by being a member of the military reserves, income from investments or capital gains, and money from a family business where the lawmaker is not directly involved in running the company.

That provision would not take effect until 2025.

Violations of the income limit would be a misdemeanor offense.

Several former legislative leaders were convicted on federal corruption charges related to misuse of outside income, and some served prison terms.

Under the measure, lawmakers’ pay would continue to be withheld whenever the state budget is late, to be paid back once the spending plan is approved.

Legislators would continue to receive travel expenses for coming to Albany for the session, at a rate of up to $183 per day.

Governor Kathy Hochul is not raising any objections to the pay increase, as long as it includes the limit on outside income. She also spoke earlier this month.

“That seems to be if you’re having a pay increase that that would be something in the interest of transparency and accountability that people would expect,” Hochul said on Dec. 15.

There are no provisions in the bill to raise the salary of the governor or any other statewide office holders.

Hochul has said it might be too late in the year to add any new items to a special session, also though some published reports say the governor has quietly proposed some changes to the state’s controversial 2019 bail reform laws.

The raise to $142,000 would take effect in January. Legislators are not allowed to raise their own pay, but are allowed to increase salaries for future legislatures. Since most of the senators and Assembly members were reelected in November, they would be benefiting from the increase.

Some Republicans, who are in the minority in the Legislature, object to the pay raise proposal. They say with inflation and worries about the crime rate, it’s not the time for lawmakers to be rewarding themselves with more money.

The leader of the state’s Conservative Party, Gerald Kassar said, in a statement, that the democratic leaders in the legislature “are once again breaking the public trust by sneaking through a massive pay raise for themselves during the holidays when the fewest number of New Yorkers are watching.”

A coalition of government reform groups also object, saying the limits on outside income contain too many loopholes.

A letter signed by Citizens Union, Common Cause, NYPIRG, Reinvent Albany and the League of Women Voters says the limits should be modeled on those in Congress, and prohibit outside income from entities where the legislator would have a fiduciary responsibility to a client. The groups also say that there should be no exceptions to allow income from family- run businesses. And, they say the limits should take effect immediately, and not wait until 2025.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990. She is also a regular contributor to the statewide public television program about New York State government, New York Now. She appears on the reporter’s roundtable segment and interviews newsmakers. Karen previously worked for WINS Radio, New York, and has written for numerous publications, including Adirondack Life and the Albany newsweekly Metroland.