ALBANY – The head of a small but influential group of independent Senate Democrats dismisses the idea of linking a hike in legislators’ salaries to further improvements in state ethics laws.
Sen. Jeff Klein, a Bronx Democrat who heads the Senate Independent Democratic Conference, said all sides agreed last year to let a commission decide once and for all whether lawmakers should get their first salary increase since 1999.
Klein said he is in favor of limits on outside income for legislators and changes to the campaign finance laws in response to Albany’s corruption problems. But he rejects the idea that they be specifically linked to a pay hike, as Gov. Andrew Cuomo now proposes.
"I’ve supported a pay raise. I would have supported it as part of a straight up vote. However, the way we did it was the most civilized,’’ Klein said of appointing a pay raise commission to look at salary levels of lawmakers and state agency heads.
The pay commission will report in mid-November. If a pay hike is recommended, an increase automatically goes into effect, without further legislative approval, in January when a new legislative session starts.
Following the recent arrests of Joseph Percoco, a former top Cuomo aide, and others involved in various economic development efforts upstate, including the Buffalo Billion, the governor let it be known that a linkage should be made between a legislative pay raise and additional ethics laws. Lawmakers make a base pay of $79,500.
But Klein said the pay commission plan was one both the Legislature and Cuomo OK'd. “If they say ‘no,’ then we’re not getting a pay raise. But to now turn around and say we need to do more? Why? This was the plan,’’ Klein said in a recent interview.
A number of pay hike proposals have been floated, including boosting annual pay to $116,900, which would be intended to cover the inflation rate since the last raise in 1999.
The leader of the Senate IDC group, which has brokered power sharing deals with the Senate Republicans since 2011, noted the full-time nature for many state legislators. “To say we don’t deserve a pay raise because it’s not a full-time job is just nuts,’’ Klein said.