In light of the state government’s “extremely precarious financial position,” New York’s state lawmakers, judges, statewide elected officials and certain gubernatorial appointees should not receive pay raises in the next four years, a state commission says.  

“Granting raises to public servants, no matter how much they might otherwise deserve them,” the commission wrote, “is simply not possible at this time.”

Since every level of government is facing the same “precarious” situation, the finding by the Commission on Legislative, Judicial & Executive Compensation creates an added rationale for freezing government pay at every level. For now, however, municipalities and school districts are on the hook for contractually driven pay hikes that are already straining their finances and forcing talk of layoffs.

In a November 11 report (made public yesterday), the seven-member Compensation Commission wrote that in light of the state’s fiscal outlook, it was “constrained from recommending” raises. The commission was created by the Legislature (under a constitutionally dubious statute) in 2015, and empowered to hike the pay for various state officials once every four years.

In ruling out raises, the commission cited the state’s current and anticipated budget gaps and high unemployment rate stemming from “the extreme economic shock” caused by COVID. They point to New York’s new economic reality, in which recovery to pre-COVID tax revenues and employment levels are potentially years away.

The commission highlights a major difference between how the state is shielding its own finances while leaving local governments and school districts to continue paying raises under union contracts inked under very different circumstances. 

Governor Cuomo has temporarily postponed scheduled raises for certain unionized state employees until December 31, but the state’s political subdivisions, which must follow the state’s rules, are still bound by contractual pay schedules that often require automatic longevity increases as well as raises in base pay. Some school districts have found themselves simultaneously giving raises and making layoffs. In at least one instance, a school district that was laying off workers had to also give raises to its teachers despite the fact that their union contract had expired.

As E.J. McMahon wrote here as the pandemic was unfolding in March, the state Legislature could (and should) enact a public-sector pay freeze to postpone any contractual pay freezes while the state’s economy and public finances remain frayed by COVID. Such a freeze would save $1.9 billion in the first year and go a long way toward helping local governments and school districts rightsize their budgets.

Background

In 2015, as part of the state budget, the Legislature created the commission to meet every four years to set the pay for judges, state lawmakers and the governor’s appointees. That year it met its December 31st deadline and gave raises to state judges. 

The commission made recommendations for incremental increases to supreme court justice salaries to match 100 percent of a federal district court judge as of April 1, 2019, or $210,900. Non-supreme court justices are paid a percentage of the supreme court justice salary ranging from 95 percent down to 90 percent.

The following year the process broke down for legislators, statewide elected officials and the governor’s appointed commissioners when the Governor’s representatives tried placing outside income restrictions on legislators.

The Legislature created a separate committee in 2018 that raised lawmaker salaries from $79,500 to $110,000. Two subsequent $10,000 raises to take effect in 2020 and 2021 if budgets were passed timely were voided by a state court judge, along with outside income limits imposed by the committee that the court deemed beyond the committee’s legislated authority.

That same committee increased the Comptroller and Attorney General salaries in three annual increments from $151,500 to $220,000 effective January 1, 2021. 

In 2019, the Legislature gave the Governor and Lieutenant Governor raises during their elected terms in violation of the state constitution consistent with the 2018 committee’s recommendations. Those raises are set to top out at $250,000 for the Governor, and $220,000 for the Lieutenant Governor on January 1, 2021.

About the Author

Cam Macdonald

Cameron J. “Cam” Macdonald is the Empire Center's director of projects and a fellow. 

Read more by Cam Macdonald

You may also like

Cuomo Hits Snooze On Raises As Locals Must Keep Paying

Governor Cuomo is again postponing pay raises for state employees—giving himself a little more budgetary breathing room without providing similar relief for local governments or school districts. Read More

Most NY State Workers In Line for Pay Raises Next Week

The COVID shutdown left more than a million New Yorkers in line for unemployment benefits, but most New York state employees are in line for pay raises next week. Read More

Union pay remains non-“prevailing”

Barely one in five private construction workers in New York State was covered by a union contract last year, according to newly released statistics that call into question a state public works "prevailing wage" mandate that assumes 30 percent union coverage of building trades occupations across New York. Read More

Suffolk’s questionable contracts

New York’s most populous suburban county has just ratified a trio of labor deals with its largest unions—and, in the process, showcased some of the worst aspects of collective bargaining across the state. Read More

New data point up “prevailing” myth

Barely one in five private construction workers in New York State was covered by a union contract last year, according to newly released statistics that call into question a state public works "prevailing wage" mandate that assumes 30 percent union coverage of building trades occupations across New York. Read More

Senate to ambush taxpayers?

While the news media and public were distracted by the questions swirling around the future leadership of the Senate Republican majority, the Senate this week moved a bill that would lock in tens of billions of dollars of unfunded lifetime health insurance coverage health coverage for police and firefighters. Read More

Shining a light on teacher union contracts

Throughout New York State, no public document has a greater impact on tax burdens and educational performance than the local teacher union contract. Yet few school districts have made any effort to share these contracts with taxpayers — and so the Empire Center has stepped into the breach by doing it for them. Read More

Cuomo upholds local control of police

Better late than never, Governor Andrew Cuomo has exercised a pocket veto of legislation that would have allowed unions representing police and other civil service employees to insist on collective bargaining of disciplinary procedures. The bill was passed at the end of session in June, but wasn't even sent to Cuomo's desk by the Senate until December. That effectively re-started the clock for gubernatorial consideration, making this a measure the governor could kill by not signing it within 30-day period, which just ended. 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.