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Cuomo could back pay raise for lawmakers if they agree to income, campaign fund limits

Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks Thursday, Dec. 11, 2014

Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks Thursday, Dec. 11, 2014 in Albany. Photo Credit: AP

ALBANY -- Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo Thursday expressed willingness to support a pay raise for state lawmakers, but only if they agree to tighter limits on outside incomes and use of campaign funds.

Cuomo and legislative leaders are discussing a possible special session of the State Legislature before New Year's Day. Timing is key because a sitting legislature can't hike its own pay but can do so for a future one -- and, technically, a new one takes office Jan. 1 following this year's elections.

Legislators said a host of unrelated issues also could be handled at a special session, including earmarking a $4 billion financial windfall for infrastructure projects.

Lawmakers haven't had a pay raise in 16 years. They earn a base salary of $79,500 annually, though many receive stipends for leadership posts that drive average pay above $90,000. Since the job is considered part-time, many earn outside income through law, real estate and other businesses.

Cuomo indicated he could back a pay hike with certain conditions.

"I am interested in reforms to the system: campaign finance, public financing [of campaigns], additional ethics laws on how your outside income is earned, who the clients are, etc.," the Democrat said. "I'm interested in pursuing those items. The legislators are interested in increasing their pay, which, frankly you could make a case for. . . . I'm saying I want more. And they're saying they aren't prepared for more. And that's where we are."

Rank-and-file legislators have said the talks have yielded a large stack of issues. Some have expressed support for per diem changes and limits on the use of campaign funds, but Republicans have been strongly opposed to using taxpayer money to finance campaigns.

Other issues also have been raised, such as charter schools and college aid for children of immigrants in the state illegally.

"There are discussions going on about infrastructure. Discussions going on about the State of the State [address]. Discussions about pay raises. Discussions about reforms," said Senate co-leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre). "Everything is being discussed."

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