Say this much about the move to pad the paychecks of a handful of state lawmakers: It’s not at all in the category of legislative leaders who desecrate the law in order to line their own pockets. That’s a special category of arrogance that richly deserved the attention of a federal prosecutor.
Nevertheless, when Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan quietly gave extra stipends to four Senate Republicans and three Democrats, he demonstrated a different version of the same sense of entitlement: In Albany, what powerful people want is always more important than the interests of
The questions swirling around the stipends deal with both their legality and the judgment that went into providing them. Flanagan and those receiving the stipends, including Sen. Patrick Gallivan, R-Elma, insist they are legal, though obvious questions arise.
Begin with the law. Stipends are set by state law, which provides them only to the “chair” of a legislative committee, and only one per legislator. It does not offer them to vice chairmen. Yet, that is what Flanagan has done, through a notably convoluted process. Consider the additional $5,500 coming to Gallivan.
Erie County’s former sheriff is chairman of the Senate Crime Victims, Crime and Corrections Committee, a position that provides a stipend of $12,500. But Gallivan is also vice chairman of the Senate Education Committee. That chairmanship carries an $18,000 stipend, but it became available and was assigned to the vice chairman when the chairman, Carl Marcellino, a Long Island Republican, instead took a $22,000 stipend as Senate majority whip.
Gallivan and others benefiting from this maneuver say it’s legal and, so far at least, State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, a Democrat, has raised no objections. But there is another consideration and, given Albany’s pervasive corruption, one that is at least as important. Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group put it this way:
“Fundamentally, it’s wrong what they’re doing. … The standard should be is what is the right thing to do. These are taxpayer dollars.”
It’s a breathtakingly simple concept: Act with taxpayers – your constituents – in mind. Do the right thing. That seems a hurdle anywhere in government and nowhere more so than in Albany.
On the scale of scandals, the stipend flap barely registers, which tells you something about how low expectations are for leaders of New York State government.
But what was the point? Why not follow – or, if necessary, change – the law? Why fiddle with the system and risk further damaging the reputation of a Legislature that is already seen as too willing to serve its own interests before those of New Yorkers?
It’s a rhetorical question.