New York’s recently enacted state budget for 2007-08 includes more than $219 million in appropriations for the state Legislature. At that rate, the New York State Legislature now costs more than $1 million per member — making it one of the best-paid and most expensive legislative bodies in the nation.
How do the Senate and Assembly spend that money? Thanks to Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, who insisted on greater transparency upon taking the helm in the upper house 12 years ago, we can answer that question with the help of detailed expenditure reports filed by each house every six months.
The separate, book-length reports published by the Senate and Assembly have not been widely disseminated outside the Capitol since they first began appearing in 1995. However, as part of its continuing effort to shine a brighter light on New York’s state government, the Empire Center for Public Policy is now posting the latest complete expenditure report contents the Internet.
Copies of reports for the period of April 1, 2006 through Sept. 30, 2006 can be downloaded in Adobe Acrobat “pdf” format from the links below. Because the two documents are very large in their original form, we have broken them into smaller parts for easier downloading. Even in these reduced sizes, however, it is recommended that you download and save these files directly to your hard drive, and then open them in Acrobat Reader, rather than simply clicking on the links and attempting to view them through your web browser.
The Empire Center also has compiled summary totals of spending attributed to each member of the Senate and Assembly in a downloadable Excel spreadsheet. The spending figures, which include lawmakers’ salaries, may be somewhat misleading in some cases since they do not include in-kind “conference” services, central staff support or committee mailings that may also be designed to support or promote some members.
Still, the reports provide the best available example of how the Legislature spends its budget, which is among the largest of any state.
A few trends that emerge:
The pockets of the majorities run deep
The top 55 spenders in the Assembly during the sixth-month span were all members of the Democratic majority, and all but one of the top 30 spenders in the Senate were members of the Republican majority. The lone exception to Republican dominance of the Senate spending list was then- Minority Leader David Paterson, whose position provided greater resources than the typical rank-and-file minority member.
Not all expense reports are created equal
The Senate’s reports are more user-friendly than those released by of the Assembly. Offices serving the majority and minority conferences in the Senate are clearly listed and categorized in a Table of Contents section allowing readers to easily find and compare expenditures. By contrast, the Assembly categorizes offices in a more-haphazard fashion, listing personnel under somewhat non-descript headings that often results in users turning to several different sections of the book before finding the desired expenditures. For example, readers looking for the expenses of the Assembly Democrats’ principal press spokesman, Charles Carrier, could turn to the listings for communications, public information or even the Speaker’s Office before finally finding the information toward the back of the book under “press operations.”
The Assembly’s biggest spender vs. most frugal member
The top spender in the Assembly over the six-month period was Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, a Manhattan Democrat and chairman of the Assembly Health Committee. Gottfried’s expenses totaled $406,777. The bulk of Gottfried’s expenses consisted of the $372,442 spent on his 18-member staff.
The lowest expenditures over the six months of any Assembly member serving a full term in 2006 were those of Republican Dan Hooker, whose $88,488 went mainly to his staff of three people.
Some numbers don’t tell the full story
Republican Assemblyman Pat Casale spent $28,949 on bulk mailing in the run-up to an election in which he was not seeking another term. During the same period, Assemblyman Darrel Aubertine, an Assembly Democrat seeking re-election in a Republican-dominated part of northern New York, reported spending $14,987 on mail. (Of course, the report does not show the considerable funds spent by the Democratic Party to help Aubertine’s re-election.)
…but others do
Sen. Nicholas Spano of Yonkers, a perennial “marginal” who won re-election in 2004 by just 18 votes, had vast resources at his disposal as he approached the election of 2006. His office expenditures of $566,488, reflecting a 37-member staff, were the highest of any senator’s during the six-month period. Spano’s office also reported bulk-mail expenditures of $116,825. By contrast, Sen. David Valesky, a then-first-term Central New York Democrat who was considered vulnerable to a Republican challenge, had a staff less than one-quarter the size of Spano’s and reported expenditures of $178,519, plus $53,169 for bulk mailings.
Money isn’t Always Everything
Despite the gap in resources, Spano lost his race while Valesky was re-elected.
Republican Sen. John Bonacic of Orange County has introduced legislation (S5088) that would ensure all lawmakers receive equal staff regardless of party affiliation. The bill also has been sponsored in the Assembly (A7731) by Sandra Galef, a Westchester County Democrat.