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Wise to attach conditions to pay raise in Albany

The New York State Assembly meets at the

The New York State Assembly meets at the Capitol in Albany on June 20, 2018. Credit: AP / Hans Pennink

After 20 years without a pay raise, New York’s legislators and top officials deserve increases. New York’s residents in return deserve public servants who are fully devoted to their official duties.

On Thursday, a compensation commission provided both, approving hikes that will make New York’s legislators the highest-paid in the nation and cap the outside income they can earn to a level like that in Congress: about $20,000 a year more, and only through certain roles like teaching.

It was a surprisingly positive day for good government in New York. Yet there is more to do.

Members of the State Assembly and Senate now are paid $79,500 a year. About three-quarters of them also get stipends, called “lulus,” of $9,000 to $41,500 a year, which bring average pay up to $92,000. The commissioners passed a three-step raise, agreeing to pay legislators $110,000 next year, $120,000 in 2020 and $130,000 in 2021. But they also eliminated almost all lulus, commonly used by leaders to buy fealty from their caucus members, restricting these extra payments to a few Senate and Assembly members who have greater responsibilities.

The increases, which by 2021 will constitute a 65 percent base pay hike, set legislator salaries at a handsome level in a state where median pay is about $65,000. The commission also increased the pay of the state’s appointed officials in four bands: low-ranking appointees will earn $140,000 next year and $170,000 by 2021; the highest-ranking, including the attorney general, the comptroller and the lieutenant governor, will earn $190,000 in 2019 and $220,000 in 2021.

The recommended increases in the governor’s salary from $179,000 to $200,000 next year and $250,000 by 2021 must be affirmed by the legislature, as will pay for the lieutenant governor.

These highlights came out of a meeting Thursday of the four commission members: state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, SUNY board Chairman Carl McCall and CUNY board Chairman Bill Thompson. Their full report comes Monday. The pay increases were expected. The outside income limit was a surprise, partly because many thought such a ban was beyond the authority of the board.

But as this Monday’s deadline to act neared, pressure on the commissioners to not approve raises without doing something to limit outside income grew. Both the Senate and Assembly have been beset by corruption that often stemmed from outside income arrangements, and the absolute power leaders wielded was helped by control of lulus. Cracking down on both is a key to better government.

The report also will highlight other ethics reforms the legislature should act on. Hopefully this will include ending the loophole that allows people to make unlimited political contributions through shell corporations, and lowering staggeringly high limits on campaign contributions. Legislators must make these changes, and they also would be wise to pass the commission’s pay increases and outside income limits themselves, thwarting any court challenges to overturn changes that take a huge step forward. — The editorial board