EDITORIAL: State officials failed to lead on pay raises

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul are among the top state officials who will defer their pay raises next year, but only after being pressured.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul are among the top state officials who will defer their pay raises next year, but only after being pressured.

Leaders lead.

They don’t wait until they face public scrutiny before they act.

So no one should be putting their hands together for Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, Attorney General Letitia James or Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli for agreeing earlier this week to defer their 2021 pay raises in the wake of the state’s covid-related financial situation.

These profiles in courage will cost the governor the $25,000 in extra pay next year that would have raised his salary to a nation-high $250,000 for a governor. And Hochul, James and DiNapoli won’t be able to plan on the additional $10,000 that would have raised their salaries to $220,000 next year.

They should have deferred their raises months ago and set an example. Instead, they waited to act until the spotlight was shining in their faces and the citizens were standing by with rubber hoses.

The decision to give up the pay raises came about a week after the state Salary Commission recommended putting off pay raises for state judges, legislators and members of the executive branch for the next four years due to the covid crisis.

And the governor certainly had no problem justifying the deferment of pay raises for 80,000 government employees earlier this year. He’s done it three times already, the latest in September.

It’s likely the raises will have to be put off again when they come due in January. And we’re guessing those employees are getting by on far less than the elected leadership in state government is.

While it’s quite possible we could have the covid health crisis under control by sometime next year thanks to promising vaccines, the state will take several years to claw out from under a $59 billion budget shortfall projected through the year 2022. Frankly, a commitment for a one-year pay raise deferment isn’t enough.

The governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, comptroller, legislators and judges all need to commit to a long-term salary freeze until the state can get back on its financial feet again. They also need to work with state employee unions on a long-term wage freeze for them.

Anyone who balks at that should remember who pays all these government salaries. In October, New York had more than 1 million fewer jobs than a year ago.

The covid crisis put many taxpaying New Yorkers in danger of losing their savings or even their homes, forced many to cut back on expenses and to seek help just to feed their families. The winter wave of covid will likely make it worse. And those lucky enough to have jobs are not likely to be getting pay raises any time soon.

We know people work hard. They deserve regular pay raises.

But in this once-in-a-lifetime crisis, we all have to make sacrifices.

That message usually comes from the top.

Just not in New York.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

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