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The stench of ‘lulu’ payments saturates Albany

Members of the New York State Senate appear

Members of the New York State Senate appear on the floor of the chamber during a special legislative session at the Capitol on June 28, 2017, in Albany, N.Y. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink) Credit: AP / Hans Pennink

An “extraordinary” session of the State Legislature — labeled as such when the governor calls lawmakers back to Albany to get more work done — ended on Thursday with nothing very extraordinary happening in terms of ethics reform.

Many concerns big and small could have been addressed, but one is particularly troublesome: “lulus.”

These payments in lieu of salary, or lulus, are extra pay for those in leadership roles in the chamber or as committee chairs. This session, some Senate committee chairs declined their lulus in favor of more lucrative payments associated with other roles. The rejected lulus were “handed down” to vice chairs designated on the paperwork — accidentally or not — as chairs.

It just so happened that the seven recipients were Republicans or breakaway Democrats who give the GOP control of the Senate. Torrents of criticism, centered on whether this was legal or just a payoff to the breakaway Democrats, miss the point. Which is: This entire practice stinks. And it stinks in an only-in-Albany kind of way.

Congress does not allow these kind of bonuses. Even the New York City Council banned them last year.

Lulus range from $9,000 to $41,500, there are 87 of them, and they pad a lawmaker’s part-time salary of $79,500. Legislators have gone without a raise since 1999, and they complained bitterly after a plan to hike their pay blew up last year. But linking pay raises with lulus is a mistake. Leadership is something a lawmaker should seek because he or she is ready to accept a more valuable role serving New York’s citizens, not a vehicle to reap a bigger payday.

We’ve said it before and we’ll keep saying it: Being a state legislator should be a full-time job with a full-time salary and a tight limit on outside income. And no one should get a bonus for just doing his or her job. — The editorial board