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Flanagan challenges Cuomo's view of pay panel's mandates

Senate Minority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport)

Senate Minority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport) Credit: Howard Schnapp

ALBANY — Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan on Wednesday joined Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, stating that regardless of what Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is saying now, their three-way, closed-door deal to create a special pay-raise committee didn’t authorize the committee to mandate reforms in the legislature.

“Despite what Governor Cuomo now says, he knows that he, Speaker Heastie, and I all agreed that the compensation committee’s sole responsibly would be to examine and set the appropriate pay level for legislators and others who had gone two decades without a pay raise,” Flanagan (R-East Northport) said Wednesday.

Many legislators are now enraged that the State Legislative and Executive Compensation Committee on Dec. 10 not only called for substantial raises for legislators, statewide elected officials and top Cuomo administration commissioners, but also required that legislators accept reform measures.

The measures were previously sought by Cuomo, but rejected by the legislature. They include eliminating most of the lucrative stipends for top leaders in the legislature, a limit on outside employment, and a provision that the phased-in pay hike could be suspended if the legislature fails to pass a budget on time.

“I am disappointed that the governor is attempting to rewrite history,” said Flanagan. “He knows that he gave the speaker and I his word. . . . It’s time for the governor to be honest about his intent and his motives.”

The three leaders, in closed-door negotiations, agreed on the legislation creating the compensation as part of the state budget adopted in April.

“Everybody should just read the law, the law is clear,” Cuomo said in an interview Wednesday on WAMC public radio. “The legislators read it and it was done a year ago.”

The law they agreed to created a commission “to examine, evaluate and make recommendations with respect to adequate levels of compensation, nonsalary benefits, and allowances." The statute also states: "Each recommendation made to implement a determination . . . shall have the force of law, and shall supersede, where appropriate, inconsistent provisions” of law.

Heastie said Tuesday that his reading of that text left no authorization to mandate reforms on the legislature.

“When we negotiated the bill, myself and Senator Flanagan, even the governor, we agreed — I don’t care what the governor says publicly — the three of us agreed that the commission’s purview wasn’t really stipends and it wasn’t really outside income,” Heastie told public radio’s “Capitol Pressroom.”

Cuomo had no comment on Flanagan’s comments.

A lawsuit by a government watchdog group is challenging the constitutionality of the compensation committee and the raises. The committee called for raises from the current $79,500 base pay to $110,000 on Jan. 1 and rising to $130,000 on Jan. 1, 2021.

Amending or repealing the committee’s recommendations would require a new law passed by the legislature, according to the statute approved in April. The committee was created in part to avoid politically risky votes by the legislature to raise their pay.

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