Elected officials in New York are in line to receive salary increases for the first time in decades based on the recommendations approved Thursday by a compensation commission composed of current and former comptrollers.
The pay commission backed pay raises for the governor, the lieutenant governor, attorney general and state comptroller as well as the 213 members of the state Assembly and Senate as well as cabinet officials in the governor’s administration.
At the same time, the compensation commission backed limits to how much lawmakers can earn in the private sector, placing a cap of 15 percent of their public salary. The commission also backed ending stipends or “lulus” for most leadership positions in the state Assembly and Senate.
The limit on outside income would take effect at the end of 2020.
"I think it will resonate poorly. We're going to have the highest paid governor and highest paid Legislature in the country and they didn't tackle the root causes of corruption in New York state government. I think that's a mistake. They have the power to take on those issues," said NYPIRG Legislative Director Blair Horner.
It’s not clear if the commission itself, approved by the Legislature and governor earlier this year to review the salaries of elected officials, can institute such change without another vote of the Legislature.
Under the recommendations outlined on Thursday, the governor would be paid $250,000 by 2022, up from the current $178,000. Lawmakers would also receive a phased-in hike from $79,500 to $130,000 by 2021.
The median household income in New York is $62,909.
For lawmakers, the pay raise would be the first pay raise in 20 years. Pay hikes for lawmakers have long been tied up in politics, with the last salary increase linked to an expansion of charter schools and a reform that stipulated lawmakers would not be paid while the budget was left unapproved after the start of the new fiscal year.
There are questions over whether the commission can limit outside pay. Government advocates say, however, the commission should have gone further.
"They tackled some of those issues in terms of outside income. But they didn't tackle any of the others. So we're disappointed. We think it's flawed. We think the commission [can] go further," Horner said.
In subsequent years, pay raise pushes have fallen flat. Judicial pay, which had been increased in tandem with legislative salaries, was decoupled from this process and subjected to a pay commission.
The legislative pay commission was formed as a means of removing politics from the matter, but also insulating lawmakers from taking a vote for an issue that is likely anathema to voters for a Legislature known for its parade of corruption arrests in recent years.
Still, lawmakers have been increasingly vocal about the need for a pay raise. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie told the pay commission last week that many of his members face middle class financial concerns, such as student debt, caring for children and aging family members.