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Heastie urges pay raise for legislators, top state officials

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 Friday made a pitch to a special commission for a substantial raise for legislators and other top officials. The panel then pressed him to consider reforms such as ending outside pay and reducing leadership stipends and per-diem pay for working in Albany in exchange for pay hikes,

 “I think the Legislature would take what you say — your recommendations — seriously,” Heastie said. He said he could make no promises, though, because tying legislation to compensation wouldn't be appropriate.

 State legislators now make $79,500 for their part-time jobs. Heastie pushed for a cost-of-living adjustment tied to inflation since 1999, when the current salary was set.

 That would raise legislators’ salaries to about $122,000. Heastie said the total cost of raises to that level would consume one 10,000th of 1 percent of state operating funds.  

 New York lawmakers’ base pay is the third-highest in the nation, behind California’s $107,241 with a $192 per diem; and Pennsylvania’s $87,180 base pay with a $183 per diem, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

As for top officials in the Cuomo administration who could get the raises, the state commission noted that six commissioners make the national average of $136,000. Three others make $127,000.

 Committee member Thomas DiNapoli, the state comptroller, pressed Heastie on whether the Legislature would be open to some reforms that have long been blocked in Albany if raises were approved by the committee. DiNapoli cited a long proposed ban on outside income as a guard against conflicts of interest, which have been key elements in many of Albany’s corruption cases.

 The committee is scheduled to make its recommendation on compensation Dec. 6. Under an agreement between Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and the Legislature in April, that recommendation would become law without any vote by the Legislature.

 Roxanne Delgado of the Bronx, a private citizen, James Coll of Seaford, founder of the nonpartisan good-government group, and Elaine Sassower, who founded the Center for Judicial Accountability argued that the process was unconstitutional. They cited provisions of the state constitution that requires the Legislature to raise salaries through traditional bills, not by trying to pass the power to a panel to avoid politically dicey votes.

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