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A raise for legislators? Not if it's 'pay for performance'

Rod Watson

So, our esteemed state legislators want a pay raise for the fine job they’re doing.

I have no problem with that, even if – in what typifies the culture in Albany – they can’t even be honest about how they intend to get it. They swear to any god who will listen that there is no deal-making going on, even as they pursue a raise while Gov. Andrew Cuomo – with former members of his administration facing bid-rigging charges  – presses for stronger ethics legislation in return.

If both happen before the Dec. 31 deadline for a pay hike, they would have you believe it is purely coincidental. For that bit of prevarication alone, they should be penalized, not compensated.

Still, I am not one of those who says they should do the job forever at the current salary because they knew up front what it pays – $79,500 plus Little League-type leadership stipends, with everyone getting a chairmanship instead of a trophy.

No, all that is at issue here is pay for performance. In that vein, I am all for computing a raise, with a few minor deductions based on how the Legislature has performed.

First, we deduct the cost of prosecuting former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, who was sentenced to five years in prison this year after being convicted of extortion, wire fraud, solicitation of bribes and honest services fraud. He was found guilty of using his office to pressure companies with business before the state to ensure that his son got no-show jobs.

Also subtract the cost of going after former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, sentenced this year for honest services fraud, money laundering and extortion after pocketing nearly $4 million in return for actions benefiting those giving him the money.

Along with the governor, Skelos and Silver made up the infamous "three men in a room" who ruled state government with the acquiescence of the same band of docile bench-warmers who now think they deserve a pay hike.

And let’s not forget the convictions or guilty pleas of former Senate Majority Leader Malcolm A. Smith. Or former Sen. Pedro Espada. Or former Assemblyman William Boyland. Or former ... heck, I’m running out of space here.

A spokesman for U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who’s prosecuted Albany’s dirtiest, said the office does not keep track of costs on a case-by-case basis. But in the interest of making sure our current batch of sitting lawmakers get what they deserve, I’m sure Bharara could put together a budget showing what he spent going after their former colleagues, money that could have been better spent dismantling the mob or terrorist groups instead of breaking up the Capitol’s unorganized crime.

And, of course, you have to throw in taxpayers’ costs for a prison bunk, three square meals and security way more costly than ADT – plus pensions for both the criminal element and their replacements.

I’m sure the lawmakers will protest that they shouldn’t pay  for their colleagues’ misdeeds. But it was the pinstriped wall of silence that gave their leaders free rein and created the atmosphere in which corruption could flourish. They weren’t part of the solution. That means they are the problem.

So by all means, let's tally up what the nation’s third-highest paid legislature has done to deserve a pay hike.

My guess is, instead of a raise, they’ll end up owing us a refund.


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