Senate panel looking at nonprofit exec pay

State Sen. Carl Marcellino (R-Syosset), in an undated

State Sen. Carl Marcellino (R-Syosset), in an undated photo, has introduced legislation to set guidelines for executive pay at all New York nonprofits -- not just those receiving state funds. (Credit: Newsday/Dick Yarwood)

Dan Janison

Melville. N.Y. Tuesday January 26, 2010. Daniel Janison, Dan Janison

Dan Janison has been a reporter at Newsday for 10

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Debate over top salaries at state-funded nonprofits entered a new phase last week as the state Senate Investigations and Government Operations Committee, chaired by Carl Marcellino (R-Syosset), elicited comments on Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's reform proposals.

Several of those who testified, including representatives from two major law firms, protested that Cuomo's move against instances of excess compensation would use too broad a brush against institutions, big and small, that legitimately provide varying public services.

Last month, Cuomo issued an executive order covering nine state social-service agencies and setting two goals: The state stops paying more than $199,000 toward any executive salary at a nonprofit, and pays no more than 25 percent to providers for administrative costs -- a cap that tightens to 15 percent by 2015.

Big pay packages at government-supported organizations have been the subject of task-force reviews by the governor's office and by state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. In his budget speech Jan. 17, Cuomo cited what he described as a $2.2 million salary for one executive in a $19 million-per-year, subsidized provider and said: "How do we justify this spending to the taxpayers of this state? . . . It has to stop."

Lawyer James Lytle, who testified last week on behalf of 16 nonprofits, said that despite instances of excessive pay: "If you have a situation where you're hiring a child psychiatrist to oversee an important program, one has to take into account what the market is for persons with those sorts of specialized expertise." Otherwise, "you would deprive not-for-profit organizations of the ability to compete for the best executive leadership."

Another lawyer for nonprofits, Michael Cooney, cited existing rules that could be better enforced without risking more red tape and suggested most nonprofit leaders are undercompensated. And Douglas Sauer of the New York Council of Nonprofits -- skeptical the new rules would change the landscape -- said most of his executives "don't come close to hitting $199,000."

But Jayne Cammisa, a registered nurse at Westchester Medical Center, hailed the governor's effort, citing a top executive salary there of $1.2 million, another of $738,000, and 36 others between $128,000 and $530,000, even as nursing staff is thinned.

Marcellino, who has indicated he prefers percentage limits to salary caps, said he will discuss recommendations Monday with committee staff.