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Speaker Heastie blasts pay raise deal for mandating reforms

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie seen on March 30,

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie seen on March 30, at the Capitol in Albany. Credit: Albany Times Union/Will Waldron

ALBANY — Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie on Wednesday blasted the work of an appointed pay committee that called for raises for Albany officials, but tied the boosts to ethics reforms.

“Some of the so-called recommendations that the commission made may have put this entire pay raise — pay adjustment — in jeopardy,” Heastie said Wednesday night after a closed-door meeting of the chamber’s Democratic majority.

“They were only supposed to look at salaries,” Heastie said.

The Committee on Legislative and Executive Commission  created by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and the legislature released its 30-page report on Monday. It called for the first raises for legislators since 1999 that would bring lawmakers' salaries to the highest in the nation. Under the committee’s action that becomes law Jan. 1, legislators’ base pay would rise from $79,500 now to $110,000 on Jan. 1; to $120,000 on Jan. 1, 2020; and to $130,000 on Jan. 1, 2021.

But the committee also called for eliminating most leadership stipends, which amount to $9,000 to $41,000 a year for leadership posts in the Assembly. The committee calls for just 15 leadership stipends instead of the current 160. Nine would be in the Assembly and six would be in the Senate, and only for the top leadership posts.

In addition, the committee calls for “performance” measures including requiring that state budgets be adopted by the April 1 deadline each year or one year’s installment of the raises could be lost or postponed.

The legislation creating the committee was tucked into the state budget adopted in April and empowered the committee to look at these related measures. Creating the committee avoided politically risky votes by the legislature and lawmakers thought it would keep Cuomo from imposing his ethics measures on the legislature.

The committee didn't include any substantive ethics measures aimed at Cuomo or his administration. The committee of four former elected Democrats called for Cuomo's $179,000 salary to rise to $200,000 on Jan. 1 and to $250,000 on Jan. 1, 2021.

There was no immediate comment from Cuomo or the Senate's Democratic conference, which will control the Senate in January.

The legislation creating the committee said it will would have the force of law unless the legislature returned to extraordinary session this month to reject the committee’s report.

Another measure by the committee would ban book royalties, but only for legislators. The issue came up in 2014 when Cuomo received more than $700,000 in royalties for his political memoir, which sold just over 3,200 copies, according to the latest public report.

Heastie was also re-elected Wednesday to lead the chamber and its Democratic majority.

He said the 2019 session will include a range of issues such as greater gun control, abortion rights and global warming, blended with policies to grow jobs, improve education and fix the New York City subway system.

“It gives me a great sense of pride to lead one of the most diverse legislative bodies in the country,” Heastie said. “In the year ahead, we will continue to build on our achievements and reaffirm our state’s reputation as a progressive leader." 

Heastie, 51, was first elected speaker in 2015, after he spent 15 years representing the Bronx. He succeeded longtime Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan), who was convicted on federal corruption charges.

In 2019 Heastie and his Democratic majority will, for the first time, negotiate bills with a Democratic majority in the Senate. Heastie and Senate Majority Leader-elect Andrea Stewart Cousins (D-Yonkers) support many of the same progressive measures, including making voting easier for New Yorkers through early voting and other reforms.

Beginning Jan. 1, Heastie will make a base pay of $110,000 plus a leadership stipend of $41,000.

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