empty-assy-chamber-150x150-6301914Squirreled away in the new state budget is a provision—first proposed by Governor Andrew Cuomo—that will guarantee future periodic pay raises for the governor, New York State legislators and other state government officials.

One of the budget bills creates a commission that will convene this June—and every four years thereafter—to “evaluate and make recommendations with respect to adequate levels of compensation and non-salary benefits” for members of the Assembly and Senate; the governor, state comptroller and attorney general; state judges; and top state commissioners and department heads.

The raises automatically take effect following the next election, possibly as early as January 2017, unless the Legislature votes to overrule the commission.

As of mid-afternoon today (April 10), the bill had not yet been signed by Governor Cuomo. The full language (Part E of A6721a/S4610a) can be viewed here.

A somewhat broader version of the commission proposal first surfaced in Governor Cuomo’s Executive Budget. The entire concept was reportedly rejected by Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos during the final week of budget negotiations, only to reappear as part of the final package. The final version did not include, among other things, Cuomo’s original recommendation to have the commission recommend a two-tiered pay schedule for state officials, based on whether they earn outside income.

Neither legislative leader mentioned this in their respective statements, nor was it included in Governor Cuomo’s 18-page press release touting passage of the budget.

As the Daily News pointed out in an editorial, the pay commission will be able to deliberate for more than 500 days and then conveniently return its recommendations after the next election.

Kicking the decision over to a commission looks to have a healthy track record of delivering: a 2014 study by the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) found that every state legislature that saw a pay raise during the preceding 12 months had done so without a vote; the states that saw the largest hikes, Hawaii and California, each did it by passing the task to a commission.

Members of Congress created a similar arrangement for themselves more than a quarter-century ago. A 1989 law provides for automatic annual cost of living adjustments (COLA) in congressional pay unless they are voted down by a majority in each house, which has happened several times in recent years.

It’s unclear, however, whether the New York Legislature’s mechanism would actually pass muster under Article III, Section 6 of the state Constitution, which reads, “Each member of the legislature shall receive for his or her services a like annual salary, to be fixed by law.” [emphasis added]. A framework for automatic but variable quadrennial pay hikes doesn’t sound “fixed.”

In addition to the usual steep odds facing anyone who attempts to overturn a legislative action on constitutional grounds, a legal challenge to the creation of the pay commission would face an added obstacle. To prevail, a litigant would have to persuade state judges to  overturn the sort of gimmicky circumvention that produced their own latest pay raise. (The new commission would supersede and do away with a commission created in 2010 to recommend judicial salaries only.)

The budget bill creating the commission also contained a variety of provisions dealing with unrelated subjects related to infrastructure, START-UP NY and other areas. It passed the Assembly 99-47 and the Senate 58-4.

However, in both houses, a “no” vote didn’t automatically signal opposition to automatic pay raises.  At least 3 senators and 3 assembly members already had signed on to separate legislation that would have created a similar commission with the power to enact raises without legislative action.

About the Author

Ken Girardin

Ken Girardin is the Empire Center’s Director of Strategic Initiatives.

Read more by Ken Girardin

You may also like

Cuomo Administration Ducks Important Questions on Nursing Homes

A new report from the state Health Department tries to deflect blame for thousands of coronavirus deaths in the state's nursing homes—but undermines its own case by withholding data and engaging in tendentious analysis. Read More

Nursing Home Vacancy Rate Soars, Hinting at a Higher Coronavirus Toll

The vacancy rate in New York's nursing homes has more than doubled since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, suggesting that the death toll among residents may be thousands higher than officially reported. Read More

Hospitalization rising in some areas

Coronavirus hospitalizations are surging in parts of upstate, including three regions that the Cuomo administration authorized to begin reopening today. Read More

Essential Plan surplus hits $3B

As Governor Cuomo pleads for financial help from Washington, one of his state's programs is sitting on $3 billion in unspent federal aid: the Essential Plan. Read More

More fiscal turmoil for Medicaid

In a sign of pandemic-related strain on state finances, the Cuomo administration is postponing a series of multi-billion-dollar Medicaid payments over the next three months. Read More

Upstate escapes the worst

With the coronavirus pandemic hitting some parts of New York much harder than others, Governor Cuomo has signaled that he will begin to relax shutdown restrictions in low-virus parts of the state. Here's a closer look at how infection and fatality rates vary from region to region. Read More

Another Medicaid payment delay

State Medicaid spending dropped to nearly zero in March as the Cuomo administration again delayed payments to balance the state's books. Comptroller Tom DiNapoli's cash report for March, posted on Wednesday, showed just $9.2 million in Medicaid disbursements. The state's share of Medicaid spending averages almost $2 billion per month. The comptroller's numbers reflect so-called Department of Health Medicaid, which covers the bulk of the program but excludes most spending on recipients with mental disabilities. Read More

Why New York?

#NYCoronavirus: It's increasingly apparent that New York is suffering more severely from the coronavirus pandemic than any other part of the U.S. and most of the rest of the world – raising stark questions for city and state leaders. What is it about New York, and especially New York City, that made it especially vulnerable to infection and death? And how can that be changed before the next virus breaks loose? Read More

Subscribe

Sign up to receive updates about Empire Center research, news and events in your email.

CONTACT INFORMATION

Empire Center for Public Policy
30 South Pearl St.
Suite 1210
Albany, NY 12207

Phone: 518-434-3100
Fax: 518-434-3130
E-Mail: info@empirecenter.org

About

The Empire Center is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank located in Albany, New York. Our mission is to make New York a better place to live and work by promoting public policy reforms grounded in free-market principles, personal responsibility, and the ideals of effective and accountable government.