New York legislators yesterday voted to raise their salary to $142,000 in a lame-duck special session. This was their first such vote since 1998, when they also passed a pay bill after the general election. That time, Governor Pataki got concessions from the Legislature in exchange, including a law allowing charter schools in the Empire State.
Governor Hochul appears at first glance not to have gotten anything. The pay raise was the only item on the agenda.
But Hochul still has a hand to play. Despite both chambers being controlled by supermajorities, the special session’s timing has given the governor special leverage. While lawmakers ordinarily can override a governor’s veto, here lawmakers will have no power to act if Hochul rejects the pay raise.
Under the state Constitution, a legislator’s salary may not be “increased or diminished during, and with respect to, the term for which he or she shall have been elected.” That means any raise must be fixed by law before January 1.
A bill becomes law when the Governor approves it by signing. If the Governor does not approve, the measure is sent back to the house where it originated with the Governor’s objections—the veto. By a vote of two-thirds of each house the Legislature can override the veto.
When the Legislature is in session, the Governor has ten days (not including Sundays) to sign a bill after it is presented. Even without his or her signature, a bill becomes a law as if the Governor signed it if the Governor does not act within that time.
However, the Legislature’s term ends December 31st. It passed its pay raise bill on December 22nd. That means Hochul essentially has the chance to run down the clock. The Legislature cannot override a veto it hasn’t received, and the veto period won’t be “dead” before the legislative term ends on New Year’s Eve.
Hochul was initially supportive of a pay raise, but if its size and way it was passed has given her a change of heart, she still has the chance to block any pay increase for the next two years. Letting time run out on the bill would save taxpayers about $16 million over that time, when factoring in payroll taxes and retirement contributions.
By waiting until December 22nd, the Legislature put itself at the mercy of the Governor’s approval. Hochul holds the cards. Let’s see whether she plays them.