Governor Andrew Cuomo is asking New York lawmakers to tighten ethics rules in exchange for his approval of their first pay raise in 15 years.
The changes sought by the governor are so sweeping that there’s little chance lawmakers will agree to the deal, said two people familiar with the negotiations. The people spoke on the condition of anonymity because the talks aren’t public.
A vote is needed before Dec. 31 for any increase above the current $79,500 minimum salary to go into effect when the new legislature convenes in January. After that point, a raise wouldn’t take effect until 2017. Lawmakers would have to return to Albany for a special session.
The bid for a raise comes at a precarious time for elected officials in the capital. Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara is investigating the Cuomo administration for meddling with and then shutting down an anti-corruption commission the governor created. In March, Cuomo disbanded the panel after nine months, saying it was longer needed because lawmakers agreed to new ethics and campaign rules.
Cuomo, a 57-year-old Democrat, wants limits on the $172 per day stipends lawmakers get while in Albany and restrictions on using campaign funds on personal items, one of the people said. While lawmakers are open to those changes, they’re not willing to go along with at least one other: capping the amount they can earn from outside jobs, the other person said.
“The governor will not entertain a legislative pay raise without a significant reform package, and the legislature has refused to accept one,” Melissa DeRosa, a Cuomo spokeswoman, said in an e-mailed statement.
In New York, the legislature generally convenes between January and June. Lawmakers are allowed to have outside jobs, and income is unlimited. Their base pay is the third highest in the U.S., behind California and Pennsylvania, according to the Empire Center for Public Policy, which favors lessgovernment spending.
Last year, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Manhattan Democrat, took home at least an additional $650,000 as an attorney with the firm Weitz & Luxenberg, according to his financial-disclosure filings. Dean Skelos, the Long Island Republican who co-leads the Senate, earned at least $150,000 for his work as a lawyer. Bronx Senator Jeff Klein, Skelos’s Democratic counterpart, collected at least $75,000.
Silver points to New York City Council members, who make a base of $112,500 per year without having to travel hundreds of miles for a session. Skelos says 15 years is too long to go without a pay increase.
Even though lawmakers have an image problem — three were arrested on corruption charges within two months last year — there’s reason to give them a raise, said Susan Lerner, director of Common Cause New York, a government watchdog. Had they received annual cost-of-living adjustments tied to inflation since 1999, each would be be making more than $100,000 annually, she said.
Still, the legislature should be a full-time job and there should be limits on outside income, Lerner said.
“We definitely see the fairness of bringing legislators into a fiscally realistic pay scale,” Lerner said. “At the same time, we are concerned that a pay-to-play and corrupting atmosphere continues unabated in Albany.”
The New York Times reported Cuomo’s ethics request on its website last night.
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