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OpinionColumnistsLane Filler

New York legislators make too much money

If you look at it as per-month pay, New York’s legislators, working five months annually, actually make the most in the country.

Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, R-Smithtown, left, and

Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, R-Smithtown, left, and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx, talk with media members after a general conference committee meeting on the budget on Wednesday, March 23, 2016, in Albany, N.Y. Photo Credit: AP / Mike Groll

With the New York State Compensation Committee facing a Dec. 10 deadline to come up with a recommendation on a legislative pay raise, there has been a lot of focus on the base pay legislators make: $79,500 a year. That’s the third-highest in the nation, behind California ($107,240) and Pennsylvania ($87,180).

But if you look at it as per-month pay, New York’s legislators, working five months annually, actually make the most in the country. California’s pols work nine months, and Pennsylvania’s work six.

And, most of New York’s make more than the $79,500, thanks to a little thing called “lulus,” short for payment in lieu of salary.

Lulus are stipends paid to the super-special important New York legislators who do more work than the peon lawmakers. So how many are super special and how many are just average elected officials? Of the 213 members in the State Senate and Assembly, 160, or a whopping 75 percent, receive extra pay. You get a lulu and you get a lulu and . . .

In California only four do, out of 120. In Pennsylvania, 15 made the cut, out of 253.

So what kind of money are we talking about? The current leaders, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, receive $41,500 stipends to run their chambers, for a total of $121,000. Their minority counterparts, Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins, who will soon be taking the gavel in the Senate, and Assemb. Brian Kolb, receive $34,500 each to have almost no say in how their chambers are run.

Then there are the other leadership members who get sliding amounts, like Ken Lavalle’s $25,000 as chairman of the Senate Majority Conference and Michael Gianaris’ $20,500 to be the Senate’s deputy minority leader. Seemingly everybody has a title (although it’s really only 75 percent.)

Assemb. Edward Ra, for instance, picks up an extra $18,000 a year for being assistant minority leader pro tempore of the Assembly. Assemb. Michael Montesano makes $14,000 as chairman of the Assembly Minority Program Committee.

The smallest stipends are $9,000 each, for ranking minority members on committees. Sen. John Brooks, for instance, though he’s new to the senator game, is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Agricultural Committee (you know how many vegetable gardens there are in Seaford), while Assemb. John Mikulin, also a rookie, is nonetheless the ranking minority member on the Consumer Affairs and Protection Committee.

So with all this merit pay being tossed around, how much does the average New York legislator make, before outside income, of course?

Just a hair under $92,000 a year. For five months. Plus $172 for each day spent in Albany, and pretty comfortable pensions, and retiree health benefits after 10 years (winning five elections) on the job.

The newly created compensation committee is a no-fingerprints way for lawmakers to give themselves a raise — they haven’t had one in 20 years — without actually having to vote on it themselves. It’s like asking your mother-in-law to call your boss.

But at least three of the four members who will decide have a pretty good sense of how the convoluted pay system works, and maybe even some fond memories that will lead to strong opinions. New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli and New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer both served in the Assembly, and SUNY chair Carl McCall was a state senator. Only CUNY chair Bill Thompson never served in the legislature. But whether lulus, per diem and travel expenses continue is a big part of that calculation. And right now lawmakers are allowed to earn unlimited outside income for all the days they are not working as legislators . . . and perhaps the ones that they are.

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