ALBANY — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Thursday that state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli is legally responsible for the practice of Senate Republicans providing lucrative committee leadership stipends to allies in the Independent Democratic Conference even though the Democrats aren’t committee chairmen.
But Cuomo also said he is confident DiNapoli feels the practice is legal, and downplayed the Senate controversy over the issue as involving only “nickels and dimes.”
“The comptroller of the state signed a check that funded a payroll, or whatever he did,” Cuomo told reporters Thursday in Manhattan.
“He either did legally or illegally. I would be surprised if the comptroller violated the spirit of the law,” Cuomo said. “I’m sure if he believed he was violating the spirit of the law, he wouldn’t.”
Cuomo has allied with the Republicans and the IDC, but clashed as recently as this week with DiNapoli, a fellow Democrat.
“The call is the comptroller’s,” Cuomo said after the mainline Democratic committee called it a crime of fraud or filing a false instrument and called for an investigation.
“If the comptroller violated the law and is unwilling to admit it, that takes it to another level . . . [but] clearly he feels it is legal because he’s not asking for the money back,” Cuomo said.
DiNapoli and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport) said the constitution allows flexibility in providing chairmanship stipends to other senators involved in running the committee, typically the vice chairman. IDC leader Jeff Klein (D-Bronx) on Tuesday denied criticism that the IDC was “bought off” by the Republicans.
At issue is the decision by Flanagan to provide stipends of about $12,500 to three members of the Independent Democratic Conference even though the senators don’t chair their committees.
Republicans protect their narrow Senate majority with a power-sharing arrangement with the eight-member IDC. Mainline Democrats blame the IDC for denying Democrats majority control of the chamber.
The actual Republican chairmen have taken larger stipends — as much as $27,500 — for other leadership positions in running the majority conference. Under law, a legislator can’t collect two stipends and there is no increased impact on the Senate’s budget for bestowing unused chairmanship stipends on senators who aren’t chairmen.
Cuomo said the bigger issue in compensation is ending the part-time status of legislators so they can’t take part-time jobs — typically in law firms — that cause conflicts of interest.
“You have a worse problem, frankly . . . not just the nickels and dimes on the stipends,” Cuomo said.
With Matthew Chayes