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What's old is new again
On Thursday, a compensation commission is expected to announce its recommendations for new pay levels of state lawmakers and top state officials, recommendations that will become law unless the legislators become so embarrassed by the process that they high-tail it to Albany to renounce a hike in their pay.
This awful process is taking place because legislators were afraid to vote on what would be their first hikes since 1998. With such a monstrosity popping up, The Point couldn’t help but wonder how the last increase came to be.
Twenty years ago this week, Albany legislators were haggling with Gov. George Pataki and each other over a pay raise they said was desperately needed, not having had a hike in 10 years. They were making $57,500, and most were getting leadership stipends called “lulus” that brought the average total pay to about $66,000. The lawmakers were in Albany in a special session to discuss pay raises, called just weeks after an election in which 100 percent of Assembly and Senate incumbents seeking re-election won.
The eventual compromise, passed in a series of secretive post-midnight haggles and votes on Dec. 17, included a hike in base pay to the current $79,500 that brought the average, including lulus, to $91,000. In return for more money, the lawmakers agreed to the establishment of charter schools, a law that put legislators' salaries in escrow if they did not pass annual budgets by the April 1 deadline, and, perched like a dysfunctional cherry on top of a cynicism sundae, an utterly tangential law creating price supports for dairy farming that ended up hiking milk prices about 50 cents per gallon.
What’s notable about the 1998 process is that everybody got something they wanted and gave something they didn’t: Assembly Democrats led by then-Speaker Sheldon Silver wanted the raises, but hated the NYSUT-despised charters. The teachers union got shushed with some salary and pension increases for members. And both Pataki and then-Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno wanted the charters and the budget deadline pay hold, but had reservations about the raises.
That’s called governing, something current legislative leaders were afraid to do this year, creating a commission as a subterfuge.
The Newsday editorial board supported the pay raises then, and the charter schools, but editorialized against the ugly process. “No Excuse for Sneaking a Legislative Pay Raise” was the headline.
Not much has changed.
Scaffold law hangs over insurance market
The region’s key business and builders groups are trying to find a way past the politics.
They’ve spent years unsuccessfully lobbying the State Legislature to reform the “scaffold” law, legislation that gives contractors and property owners “absolute liability” if construction workers are injured in a fall on the job, even if they are not entirely responsible for the accident.
The Long Island Builders Institute, the Long Island Association and the Association for a Better Long Island have had an uphill battle with this one for years, one likely even less winnable with a State Senate controlled by the Democrats, as one of the biggest groups in favor of the scaffold law is, unsurprisingly, labor unions.
So, the trade groups are pushing in a different direction. They seek an “Insurance State of Emergency” for Long Island from state insurance regulators. Joining them in the effort: United Way and Habitat for Humanity, which advocate for and build affordable housing in the region.
The organizations wrote this week to Maria Vullo, the superintendent of the state Department of Financial Services, requesting the emergency declaration. The letter to Vullo tasks her with the “responsibility to provide an insurance market which is fair to all concerned.”
Mitch Pally, the builders institute’s chief executive officer, told The Point that builders have trouble obtaining insurance, or have to pay marked-up premiums, because of the scaffold law. A state of emergency could alleviate some of the added costs, which, Pally said, are passed on to homeowners and tenants, and make building affordable housing particularly difficult.
“This has become a crisis on Long Island,” Pally said.
So far, no word from Vullo on whether the attempt at an end run around Albany politics will be successful.
Randi F. Marshall
Making an impression
There’s always a Long Island connection
In the ongoing annals of Long Islanders (and Long Island-connected dogs) in the national spotlight, you might have noticed the name William Pauley popping up in some high-profile ways recently. A son of Glen Cove, he is a senior federal judge in the Southern District of New York and the one who will be sentencing Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s personal fixer whose cooperation with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation has sent the White House into a tizzy.
Pauley also made headlines last month for ripping into all parties affiliated with the New York City Housing Authority, where conditions are “somewhat reminiscent of the biblical plagues of Egypt.”
A 1977 Newsday article lists Pauley among a group of applicants from Long Island who passed the state bar exam, including his residence as Glen Cove.
After getting his law degree from Duke University, Pauley was hired by the Nassau County Attorney’s Office during the Ralph Caso administration. Then, while in private practice, Pauley defended the county in federal and state discrimination lawsuits, including one about Nassau’s police department’s discriminatory hiring practices that led to a major consent decree. In another, Pauley successfully defended Nassau in a landmark pay-equity lawsuit filed by its municipal unions.
He also worked as a counsel for the State Assembly minority — at one point earning $102 a week while also doing other work for Nassau and Suffolk, according to a 1985 Newsday article.
Republican Clarence Rappleyea was minority leader in the Assembly at that time. Pauley was appointed to the bench by President Bill Clinton, and confirmed to his current post in 1998 after being nominated by U.S. Sen. Al D’Amato, a then-Senate courtesy that allowed members to nominate judicial candidates regardless of their party.
A Wall Street Journal profile called Pauley “stern” and a “taskmaster” who asks hard-hitting questions. Not the kind of guy who likes shenanigans, be it from sloppy federal agencies or a colorful Trump-allied fixer accused of making payoffs to a porn star.
“A courtroom is a formal place,” the judge told WSJ.