EDITORIAL: Now is not the time for lawmakers’ pay raise

State Capitol Building in Albany.
State Capitol Building in Albany.

While you’ve been watching your credit card balance dwindle during your Christmas purchases, not warming up the car in order to save gas and wondering if you’re going to have to stop buying eggs when they hit $5 a dozen, state legislative leaders have been plotting to take even more of your money — and put it in their own pockets.

On Thursday, Democratic state Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie was asked about rumors that he might call lawmakers back into a special session before the end of the year to approve a pay raise for themselves above their current $110,000-a-year base salary.

Heastie was coy with his answer, saying there were no plans to come back “at this moment.” But he didn’t deny the rumors and he didn’t rule out the special session.

And he noted that legislators needed to be adequately compensated for all the work they do — laying the groundwork for making the case for a raise.

Democrats in the state Senate are reportedly also considering coming back before the end of the year to vote on a pay raise for themselves.

And Gov. Kathy Hochul last week came out in support of a pay raise, saying legislators work very hard for their money — as if other New Yorkers don’t.

Given the struggles facing the average New Yorker with inflation and other rising costs, as well as dealing with the leftover financial impacts of the pandemic, this is not the time for lawmakers to be taking money from their constituents to ease their own financial struggles.

In addition to the struggles of their constituents, the state government itself faces a possible fiscal crisis, as costs and debt rise and as federal aid from pandemic relief goes away.

How are lawmakers going to justify to their constituents unpopular spending cuts to balance the budget while at the same time taking money out of the same state budget to boost their own salaries?

The cynical among us might also question the timing of the raise proposal.

All state lawmakers just won election or re-election last month, which means none of them will have to face voters again at the ballot box for another two years. That’s two years for voters to forget about any pay raise.

Also, because of a rule prohibiting lawmakers from raising their own salaries, any raise for the incoming Legislature would have to be approved before the next Legislature takes office in January.

If the current group waits until next month to approve the pay increase, they won’t get their money until 2025. If they vote on it now, they’ll get it next year. That’s why there’s apparently a push on for them to call a special session and approve the raise before the end of the month.

Despite the prohibition on raising their own pay, the reality is that most state lawmakers from the current Legislature got re-elected in November. So by the outgoing Legislature voting on a raise for the incoming Legislature, they’ll essentially be raising their own pay anyway.

That’s pretty sneaky, even for politicians.

When they ran for election this year they knew what the salary for the position would be when they took office. So let’s not hear any whiners complaining about the pay. If the pay was too low for you, then you shouldn’t have run for the job in the first place.

We can’t imagine any candidates having disclosed to voters their support for a pay raise while they went around campaigning. That would have been a sure-fire way to lose votes.

Also keep in mind that lawmakers have refused to return to Albany to address other pressing concerns, such as problems with the controversial bail reform law.

We can just hear it now: ‘They’re not willing to come back to Albany for a special session to keep criminals behind bars, but they’re willing to come back to pad their own pockets.’

That would go over big with the voters. But again, the hope would be that the voters would forget about it by the next time all the legislators come up for re-election in 2024.

Lawmakers might indeed work hard, and they indeed might be worthy of a pay raise.

But now is not the right time to be giving themselves one. And voting for a pay raise by squeezing in a special session between now and New Year’s is not the way to go about getting it.

Speaker Heastie said he’s not considering calling lawmakers back to Albany to pass a pay raise “at this moment.”

For true public servants, that moment won’t come at all.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

One Comment

I find it very hypocritical the legislators are going after The Thruway Authority to not raise tolls while simultaneously handing themselves an ~18% pay raise for a part-time position that pays more than 100K a year, and they able to earn outside income on top of it! This is also after the SUNY Trustees granted the new chancellor a salary of well over $750K plus additional homes, expenses, etc. Apparently, they must have more than enough in their budget to cover SUNY campus budget deficits all over the state to do this. Wait, no they don’t….

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