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Skelos would back legislative pay hike

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos talks to members

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos talks to members of the media outside his office following a meeting of Senate Republican on Monday, Nov. 17, 2014, in Albany, N.Y. Credit: Albany Times Union / Paul Buckowski

ALBANY -- Sen. Dean Skelos was re-elected by his peers Monday to lead the State Senate and indicated that a pay raise for lawmakers is one of the possible subjects of a special session before New Year's Day.

"That's one of the issues that are out there," Skelos said about a pay raise after emerging from a closed-door GOP conference where he once again was designated Senate Republican leader. "I have said I'm in favor of a pay raise on numerous occasions," adding it's been 16 years since lawmakers' last pay hike.

Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) said there have been no official pay-raise talks with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan).

If there is a special session, Skelos said carving up a $4 billion windfall from national financial settlements also should be part of the mix. He prefers using the money for infrastructure.

He added he would oppose a minimum-wage hike and public financing of campaigns but could support changes in lawmakers' daily and travel allotments, which have been the focus of several corruption investigations in recent years.

Others suggested an expansion in the number of state-authorized charter schools -- which Skelos and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo favor -- also could be discussed. Any special session likely would occur in early December.

State lawmakers receive a base pay of $79,500, a rate that was last changed in December 1998. Many lawmakers also get extra stipends for leading committees or serving in party leadership posts, which boost average pay closer to $100,000. Traditionally, any pay hike for legislators also means a pay hike for the governor, other statewide elected officials and state-agency commissioners.

With his election Monday, Skelos is poised to again become sole Senate majority leader.

He has shared the Senate helm for the last two years with Senate co-leader Jeff Klein (D-Bronx) under an unusual power-sharing agreement between Republicans and six breakaway Democrats that prevented mainline Democrats from taking control.

But Republicans won enough seats on Election Day -- 32 of 63 -- to take outright control of the chamber, meaning Skelos is set to become outright leader, a post he held briefly in 2008 and then again in 2009-10, when the legislature convenes in January.

Sen. Simcha Felder (D-Brooklyn), one of the breakaway Democrats, has said he'll continue to be part of the Republican conference.

Skelos also is talking about maintaining a partnership with the five-member Independent Democratic Conference that Klein leads, though some expect Klein would have to take something less than a joint leadership role. Skelos said the two have to discuss "how we move forward."

The partnership, as it worked in 2011-12, would give Republicans breathing room on some controversial bills and give Klein a better chance to pass legislation and garner legislative perks, such as committee leadership posts. Klein didn't immediately comment.

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