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State lawmakers, under deadline, talk about pay raises

ALBANY – Assembly Democrats huddled for two hours in private Monday, with Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie trying to get a feel from his colleagues just how far lawmakers might bend to get a pay raise enacted before a December 31 deadline.

Heastie, following the meeting, said he’s “not sure” there will be a special session of the Legislature in December to take up a pay increase bill for lawmakers and other top state officials.

The Bronx Democrat again sought to dismiss the idea that lawmakers might trade an effort to raise their own take-home pay in return for several items being sought by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

“You can bring things up in a conversation if everybody agrees that it should happen, then it’s not a trade,’’ he said.

“We’re not doing something that’s going to be harmful to the members of the Assembly or do things that we don’t like in exchange for a pay raise,’’ Heastie added.

One thing apparently is off the table: Cuomo’s new call for term limits for state lawmakers.

“Term limits (are) not something that the (Democratic) conference supports,’’ Heastie said.

The Democrats, after a holiday party in Albany Monday night, planned to meet again Tuesday morning.

The Senate has not announced any plans to return to Albany, though officials have said talks are underway with the Assembly and Cuomo on a potential package that could include a pay raise authorization, various ethics law changes and other matters.

The Legislature is due to start its 2017 session in early January.

Only the pay raise issue has a deadline. Lawmakers, under the state constitution, would have to wait another two years to see a salary hike if they don’t approve one in December, before the start of a newly elected Legislature.

Going into the meeting Monday, Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Morelle, a Monroe County Democrat, noted the long opposition to term limits in the Assembly. He said Democrats believe such a law would strengthen the hands of lobbyists and “entrenched staff.’’

“I don’t think we’re going to rush into any real restructuring of the state government or the responsibilities in an end-of-year session,’’ Morelle said of Cuomo’s efforts, which include designating the Legislature a full-time body and giving its members a large pay raise.

They now have a base pay of $79,500. Salaries have not gone up since 1999.

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