In budget, lawmakers pave way for pay raise

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In one of its final acts in the state budget earlier this morning, the state Assembly passed a budget bill that includes a pay raise commission for the Legislature and the executive branch.

So the Legislature and state agency commissioners could get their first pay raise since 1999 in 2017. (The Senate passed it earlier in the night.)

The commission will come up with a pay structure for all three branches of government after it was first established in 2010 to come up with pay raises for judges — whose pay had been linked to the Legislature.

NY State Budget

But critics said the new commission would have the same structure as the judicial one, giving the governor’s office and the Legislature a majority of the seven members.

The governor would appoint three members; each house of the Legislature would have one member; and there would be two from the courts.

“That’s not an independent commission at all,” said Blair Horner, legislative director for the New York Public Interest Research Group.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo initially proposed the pay commission in his budget Jan. 21, and it got little attention as lawmakers grappled into the early morning over education and ethics reform.

“This is the great untold story with the budget this year,” Assemblyman Bill Nojay, R-Pittsford, Monroe County, said. “The ethics stuff is really nothing compared to this.”

Other Republicans were also critical of the panel.

“The budget authorizes a panel to give legislative pay raises so legislators won’t have to risk an ugly vote to give themselves more money. It takes away accountability and transparency and it’s constitutionally dubious,” Assemblyman Kieran Michael Lalor, R-Fishkill, Dutchess County, said.

Lawmakers receive a pay base of $79,500 and extra money for leadership posts, ranging from $9,000 to $41,000. But they can’t vote themselves a pay raise, so at the end of every two-year term, the issue is raised about whether the sitting Legislature would vote for a pay raise for the incoming Legislature.

But it hasn’t happened for fear of political backlash from the public.

Now the commission will decide — taking it out of the Legislature’s hands. And the commission’s recommendations would be binding.

Also, Cuomo has argued that he’s had trouble recruiting commissioners for agencies because the pay isn’t high enough. That too would be addressed by the commission.

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