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Cuomo outlines possible special session for lawmaker raises

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo put pressure on the

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo put pressure on the Legislature during a press event upstate saying that if legislators hold a special session to reauthorize a pay raise commission that would lead to higher pay in January, they will also be confronted with several measures that he wants done. Credit: Charles Eckert

ALBANY — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Wednesday squeezed the legislature to act on his priorities, including term limits for senators and Assembly members, as part of a special session in which Cuomo would reopen the possibility of a pay raise for lawmakers.

No agreement, however, was reached on holding a special session this month.

On Wednesday night, Cuomo said he was also talking to legislative leaders behind closed doors about potentially transformative proposals for Albany. Cuomo called for four-year legislative terms — twice the current length, which could reduce campaigning and fundraising — and eight-year term limits for newly elected legislators and for statewide officials, including the governor. Those measures would require approval by voters in a constitutional amendment. He also wants to limit legislators’ outside income

Under the constitution, the legislature would have to vote for pay raises this month, before the new legislative session begins in January, or wait another two years for a raise. That’s because a sitting legislature isn’t allowed to raise its own pay. The 2017-18 legislature, mostly incumbents, was elected in November.

Cuomo’s gambit to leverage the legislature’s desire for the first raise since 1999 also showed the tension between the governor and legislature. Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi said Wednesday night that the governor and legislative leaders have been meeting “daily,” while legislative leaders denied any talk of swapping issues was being considered.

“As I have said many, many times, we are simply not going to trade a pay raise for any piece of legislation,’ said Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) on Wednesday night. “There are items that the governor has spoken about that have never been brought to my attention. These items include significant issues that go to the very heart of our system of government and they cannot be considered on a whim. I have no idea who the governor is speaking to about these issues, but it certainly isn’t me.”

Earlier Wednesday, Cuomo put pressure on the legislature during a news event upstate, saying that if legislators hold a special session to reauthorize a pay raise commission that would lead to higher pay in January, they will also be confronted with several measures that Cuomo wants done.

“I’m saying to the legislature, that’s great to come back to reauthorize the pay commission and get a raise,” Cuomo told reporters in Hornell. “What’s even better is if you do the peoples’ business when you come back because we have a number of things that are critical to get done now for the people.”

Hours later, the Senate’s Republican majority confirmed talks are underway that could lead to a special session, but said no decisions have yet been made.

“A number of issues have been raised,” said Scott Reif, Senate GOP spokesman. “There have been discussions.”

The pay commission appointed by Cuomo and legislative leaders was expected to enact a pay raise following the legislative elections in November. But lawmakers blame Cuomo’s appointees for blocking the panel’s recommendation that would have triggered raises Jan. 1 without lawmakers having to make the politically dicey vote to raise their pay. Lawmakers are paid $79,500 in base pay for the part-time positions, although most make six figures with leadership stipends and per-diem expense checks.

Cuomo said he wants the legislature to release $2 billion in housing aid to get the homeless off the streets this winter, to enact tougher hate crime sanctions in the wake of a rise in threats statewide after the election of President-elect Donald Trump and to change procurement statutes at the public university systems.

More than 30 officials have lost their jobs to corruption probes in the past decade in Albany.

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