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State senators seek raise for judges, selves

State senators have quietly submitted legislation to give pay raises to state judges -- as well as themselves.

All 62 members of the Senate signed on as sponsors of the bill, which would create a commission to help determine the new pay for lawmakers. It also would give automatic cost-of-living adjustments for legislative salaries.

Lawmakers now get a base salary of $79,500, but leadership and committee posts add stipends -- known in Albany as "lu-lus" -- of more than $10,000 apiece for dozens of members and $30,000 for top leaders.

There is no companion bill, for the moment, in the Assembly. Lawmakers this week said Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer floated the idea of linking a legislative pay raise to a plan that would dramatically lower campaign contribution limits to New York politicians and political parties. A deal that was getting close on the campaign finance measure collapsed Monday.

The state's judges have been pressing for a pay raise, which they have not gotten since 1999.

The Senate bill would take State Supreme Court judges' pay from $136,700 to $165,200 a year. The measure calls for making the raises retroactive to January 1. It would cost $48.2 million. A memo accompanying the legislation states the bill will bring state judges in line with judges on federal district courts.

The annual cost-of-living allowance would apply to judges, as well as legislators, the attorney general, comptroller and agency commissioners. Because of constitutional restrictions about legislators hiking their own salaries, the legislative pay hike would not kick in until January 2009.

"New York needs a comprehensive method to review the compensation of state public officials," a Senate memo states. "This method must balance compelling interests in providing levels of pay that fairly reflect modern economic realities -- with the public's demand for rationality, accountability and transparency in the process of fixing those levels."

e-mail: tprecious@buffnews.com

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