New York state lawmakers would move from third in the nation to the highest-paid state legislators under terms of a widely reported plan to hike their salary to $100,000 or more a year.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and legislative leaders have avoided confirming any ongoing negotiations between them. But they have not ruled out the possibility of a lame-duck Legislature voting for the first pay hike in 13 years for senators and members of the Assembly, who now earn a base salary of $79,500 annually.
Since lawmakers cannot vote themselves a pay raise during their two-year term in office, the Legislature would have to approve the hikes this year to receive them in 2013 or wait another two years before considering a salary hike.
Postponing the vote until after the election is meant to avoid a backlash at the polls that could hurt lawmakers running for election, particularly those in tight races. And it is less likely to be an issue in elections two years from now when the issue will be more distant and voters might have other matters on their minds.
It is bad timing to bring up a legislative pay raise during a recession that has led to cuts in the state work force and kept public employees salaries from increasing. However, state leaders believe the modest improvement in Albanys performance in the past two years with on-time budgets and other major legislation passed on time may make the public more receptive to the idea. New Yorkers had no tolerance for a pay raise during years of legislative dysfunction that failed to produce on-time budgets year after year. Thirteen years without a raise has seen the salary eroded by inflation.
However, public acceptance will also hinge on specifics that have yet to be worked out, which is where Gov. Cuomo will play an important role.
Although the $79,500 base salary is for a part-time job, it has become full-time with the base pay supplemented by lulus and $175 per diem to help offset expenses for lawmakers maintaining two residences. Critics say per diem pay has been abused while lulus cash bonuses or stipends some lawmakers receive for leadership functions have become a way for legislative leaders to reward lawmakers for their loyalty.
One possible scenario under consideration, as reported by Frederic Dicker of the New York Post, would eliminate per diems in exchange for a $100,000 yearly salary, which would cost taxpayers $4.25 million a year. However, that would be reduced by about $2 million if per diems were eliminated.
Another possibility is for Gov. Cuomo to push for the much-talked-about mandate relief for local governments.
If there is to be a deal, Gov. Cuomo will have to demand concessions from lawmakers.