Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proven adept at getting the Legislature to do what he wants, whether it’s a tax cap, ethics reform or same-sex marriage. We’d like his chances with a minimum-wage increase, reform of New York City’s stop-and-frisk laws and decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana, too. There’s no need to link them to a legislative pay raise, as he wants to do.
The idea of such a raise is very unpopular with New Yorkers (75 percent are against), and for good reason: a $79,500 base salary, plus $171 for expenses each day they are in session, plus lulus for leadership positions, plus health care and pension benefits is adequate compensation for part-time legislators, especially during tough economic times like these when so many of their constituents are without pay raises, benefits or even jobs. Even though they’ve had no increase since 1999, our state lawmakers’ base pay is still third highest in the nation, behind only California’s and Pennsylvania’s.
While the legislative leaders and many members have made clear they would like a raise, they know there would be backlash at the polls and so will wait until after the election. Then they must act before Dec. 31 (because a sitting Legislature can’t increase its own pay) or wait another two years.
Meanwhile, Cuomo is helping them by getting people used to the idea, saying he’s open to a legislative pay raise but only if lawmakers first do “the public’s business.” In other words, a quid pro quo, a pay raise in return for something else. That’s politics, and despite our opposition to a pay raise, we (and, we suspect, many New Yorkers) could hold our nose and go for one provided Cuomo got enough in return.
But a hike in the minimum wage and small changes in the marijuana laws aren’t nearly enough. If legislators’ pay is going to be raised to $100,000 or more, as expected, some major reforms have to be made to improve our political system, save taxpayers money and keep struggling local governments from going bankrupt.
How about public financing of political campaigns, with matching funds? How about serious mandate relief for local governments, including elimination of the Triborough Amendment, which guarantees scheduled raises to public employees even after contracts expire? That’s the kind of deal that would enhance Cuomo’s reputation, rather than damage it.