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Albany pay raise proposal sparks criticism during hearing

H. Carl McCall is chairman of a state

H. Carl McCall is chairman of a state commission that is considering raises for New York State legislators and other top state officials. Credit: AP/Mike Groll

ALBANY — A special state commission on Wednesday heard arguments that any pay raise for legislators and top officials should be tied to ethics reforms, while other speakers questioned the constitutionality of the panel itself.

A decision is expected Dec. 6.

State legislators, the governor, attorney general, comptroller, lieutenant governor and top commissioners haven’t had raises since 1999.

Members of the state Senate and Assembly make $79,500 for the part-time jobs and most get $174 per day while in Albany. Most also receive leadership stipends of $9,000 to $41,000.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is paid $179,000. Other statewide elected officials receive $151,000. Most top commissioners make about $136,000.

New York State legislators have the third-highest salaries in the nation. Most salaries for statewide elected officials and top administration commissioners are among the highest in the nation, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Matt Rettig of Cornwall, an airline pilot who ran unsuccessfully for state Assembly this year, called for limiting though not banning outside income and limiting any hike in officials' state pay.

Rettig said the committee needs to preserve the part-time State Legislature with members from the outside work world, as the state constitution envisioned.

“In too many cases, the political class is out of touch,” Rettig said.

The New York Public Interest Research Group said a pay raise should be accompanied by ethics reforms, such as banning outside income to guard against conflicts of interest.

Mark Dunlea of Hunger Action Network, a nonprofit that seeks to end hunger, said the range of raises being considered for legislators — to about $122,000, if tied to inflation — would be far more proportionally than the raise of the minimum wage for the working poor.

He argued that if legislators are paid more, they should be required to work full time in session all year.

“They shouldn’t get a six-month vacation after six months of part-time work,” Dunlea said.

Lawmakers, however, argue they work in their home districts after the session ends on legislation and on constituent needs.

Dunlea and Robert Schulz, a constitutional activist, questioned the legal standing of the committee. Cuomo and the legislature created the committee in April and gave its recommendation the power of law, without a politically difficult vote by the legislature or Cuomo.

“The scheme violates the letter and spirit of certain provisions of the New York State constitution,” Schulz said.

He and some other legal experts said the constitution requires the legislature to enact pay raises and doesn’t allow for the power of law to be transferred to a politically appointed committee.  

“We think it was legal," said pay commission chairman H. Carl McCall, a former state comptroller and chairman of the State University of New York board. "If someone wants to challenge that they should, but we did not make the decision."

The commission's final public hearing begins at noon Friday in the SUNY Global Center’s Global Classroom at 116 E. 55th St. in Manhattan.

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