After months, if not years, of whispers and closed-door jockeying, a bill to boost state legislators' pay significantly finally has seen the light in the Capitol.
Assembly Democrats proposed that lawmakers get increases averaging 38 percent, allowing most Western New York lawmakers to pull in more than three times the average wage earned by their constituents.
They would not be alone. Judges, the heads of state agencies, the governor and other statewide officials would be in line for what supporters are calling a cost-of-living adjustment.
But, like most things in the Capitol, the bill's prospects of producing an actual pay raise remained muddled Monday.
Gov. Pataki derided lawmakers as part-time workers who don't deserve more pay.
"I don't think a pay raise for legislators standing alone at this point is justified," Pataki said in carefully chosen Albany-speak meant to leave a crack open in the door for a pay raise.
With talk of Pataki wanting to cut a number of other deals on everything from charter schools and tax reductions to an end to a Democratic lawsuit over his budget vetoes this year, the governor would not rule out approving a pay increase for the 211-member Legislature.
Under a separate Assembly resolution, Pataki's pay would go to $179,000 from $130,000 a year. The governor, however, is considering a run for national office, and political observers say a big raise now might not spin well on the national campaign circuit.
The legislators' pay increase also would be substantial. The Assembly bill calls for raising the base pay to $79,500 from $57,500 a year. Stipends for serving in leadership or committee posts would rise to $41,500 from the current top rate of $30,000.
The total pay of longtime Erie County lawmakers such as State Sen. Dale M. Volker, R-Depew, and Assemblyman Robin L. Schimminger, D-Kenmore, for instance, would increase to $97,500 from $70,500. With the leadership stipend, the salary of Deputy Assembly Speaker Arthur O. Eve, D-Buffalo, would jump to $104,500 from $77,500.
The increases would put the lawmakers' salaries far above those earned by their constituents. In Erie County, for instance, the average wage earner makes $28,358 annually, according to the state Labor Department.
Besides the immediate increase in salary, the raise would give older members nearing retirement a sizable boost in their pensions.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, who introduced the pay-raise bill, did not return calls seeking comment.
Even if the bill does not pass, Silver would win points with his Assembly Democrats for publicly advancing the issue, several Democrats said in explaining why he put out such a controversial bill before Pataki had signed off on it.
Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno, R-Brunswick, downplayed the pay-raise hoopla, saying, "It's not any more likely than it was two or three weeks ago."
He said he and the other two members of the Albany triumvirate -- Pataki and Silver -- had not discussed a pay-raise bill and cautioned that while legislators were returning to Albany this week, no plans had been made even for holding a session.
Yet Bruno seemed to lay the groundwork to justify a pay increase. After 10 years without a raise, the plans unveiled Monday are a "cost-of-living adjustment, not an increase in compensation," he said.
Today, the horse-trading gets under way in earnest.
Despite publicly saying that nothing is linked to a pay-raise bill, Pataki reportedly wants a host of issues resolved in return for the big salary boost.
Judges would be in line for pay increases totaling about 21 percent.
The pay of Erie County judges would go to $125,600 from $103,800, and that of Niagara County judges would rise to $119,800 from $99,000.
The salary of Chief City Judge Thomas P. Amodeo would increase to $115,100 from $95,171, while that of Erie County Surrogate Joseph S. Mattina would rise to $129,900 from $107,900.
The salaries of statewide officeholders, including the attorney general, would rise to $151,500 from $110,000 a year, while those of agency heads would rise 13 percent.