Retiring Assemblyman Bob Reilly says he thinks the final vote of his years in the Legislature could be for a pay raise his colleagues would enjoy after he is gone.
While no proposal has been introduced and neither legislative leader has promised to bring up the issue before the end of year, Reilly, D-Colonie, says all signs indicate state legislators are going to get their first pay raise since 1999, when base salaries were set at $79,500. The salary is third-highest in the nation, according to information compiled by the Empire Center, a fiscal watchdog.
“I am quite sure that will happen,” Reilly said about a vote, which is not likely to occur until after the November election. “I believe it will happen ... based on what people are saying.”
Under state law, legislators are able to vote to increase their own pay, but it wouldn’t go into effect until the next legislative cycle. In this case, a vote in 2012 would kick in a pay raise in 2013. If a vote doesn’t occur this year, a raise couldn’t be implemented until 2015 at the earliest.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office, Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos’ spokesman and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s spokesman did not respond to requests for comment.
In the Capital Region, there is a mix of opinions about a pay raise from state legislators. The views range from a willingness to study a pay increase based on incremental raises to scaling back pay by half and also curtailing the legislative session by three months.
The average total pay for Assembly members in the region was about $87,500 for the fiscal year ending last fall. The rate was higher in the state Senate during the same period, with the three local senators having an average annual salary of about $100,000.
Assemblyman Peter Lopez, R-Schoharie, who remembers legislators kicking around the idea of a pay raise when he entered the Assembly six years ago, said the drumbeat for an increase in pay is coming from downstate, where there is a higher cost of living. He is sympathetic to their position, which revolves around the argument that salaries are interpreted differently in Long Island or New York City than the rest of the state, he said.
While Lopez said he spends $20,000 to $30,000 of his own money to run his district office and cover his travel throughout the district, he still would find it tough to approve a raise while the economy is unstable and people in the state are in need of help.
Besides Reilly and Lopez, Assembly members Tony Jordan, R-Jackson, and Marc Butler, R-Newport, were willing to talk about the issue of a pay raise. Of that group, only Reilly said he would support some type of raise, even though he says an independent board should control legislative pay.
Butler, who stressed that his salary is more than adequate, said a major pay raise is not appropriate at this time. He said modest pay raises tied to some sort of growth metric might make sense, but ultimately, “I just voted against an increase in the minimum wage, so how would it look if I voted myself a big pay raise?”
Jordan rejected the idea that legislators are really part-time workers, given their 40- to 50-hour work weeks, but nonetheless called discussions about a pay raise “premature” based on the weak state of the economy.
He wants to have a completely different conversation, though, and says the pay of legislators should be cut in half and the legislative session should end when the budget is due, March 31. “This would encourage more true citizen legislators,” Jordan said.
That sentiment was echoed by Assemblyman James Tedisco, R-Glenville, and state Sen. Roy McDonald, R-Saratoga. Both suggested that pay should be reduced, with Tedisco specifically saying it should be trimmed for every day the state budget is late.
State Sen. Hugh Farley, R-Niskayuna, who said he has heard no rumblings of a pay raise being discussed in conference meetings, acknowledged that one could come up for a vote but promised to oppose it. He didn’t think he’d ever voted in favor of a pay raise in his decades of public service.
Assemblyman George Amedore, R-Rotterdam, also opposed a legislative pay raise and added that there are many more important things to accomplish.
Many of these legislators also noted that their constituents don’t support a raise, which is backed by a Siena Research Institute poll from last month, where almost two-thirds of New Yorkers polled opposed an increase in legislative pay. That poll showed that legislative pay raises garnered only 21 percent support.
In that poll, the familiar upstate-downstate divide surfaced once again, though both areas were opposed to the idea. A full 82 percent of upstate poll respondents were opposed to raises, compared with 54 percent downstate.
The demographic group that most supported raises were people who make more than $100,000 a year, with 36 percent supporting raises and just under half opposing them.