By Kenneth Lovett
ALBANY — State lawmakers will see their first pay raises in two decades, but they will also be forced to restrict their outside income and eliminate most legislative stipends.
The raises and conditions were enacted Thursday by a commission that was charged with recommending whether lawmakers, who receive a base salary of $79,500, should get their first raises since 1999.
Under a muddy resolution approved by the four-member panel, raises for lawmakers would be phased in over three years.
Starting Jan. 1, the legislative base salary would jump to $110,000. It would grow to $120,000 in 2020 and $130,000 in 2021.
“When you talk about issues of fairness, it is not the right thing to have gone that period of time (without a raise),” said pay panel commissioner Bill Thompson, a former New York City controller. “While people may look at this as part-time employment, it is not. It is a full-time thing. They are required, whether they are in Albany or down in their districts, to do the job and do it admirably.”
But in imposing the need for reforms, commission chairman Carl McCall, a former state controller, without specifically mentioning the scandals that have hit the Capital in recent years, said that “we really have to make sure that we send signals to the public about how serious they are about doing their job and doing it well.”
Under the enacted plan, lawmakers would have until the start of 2020 to restrict outside income to a congressional model of 15% of their legislative pay. Certain jobs, including legal work with clients, would be prohibited all together.
Doing so would eliminate even the appearance of conflicts of interest, the commission members said.
The resolution passed by the four panel members — McCall, Thompson, state Controller Thomas DiNapoli and city Controller Scott Stringer — also requires the Legislature to get rid of most of the stipends paid to lawmakers who serve as committee chairs, ranking minority members, or in leadership positions.
A handful of stipends, like those paid to the Assembly speaker and Senate majority leader, would remain in place to reflect the added responsibility of those jobs, the panel said.
The commission was created as part of this year’s state budget. Some lawmakers and advocates have suggested the panel does not have the constitutional right to hike salaries, That power belongs to the governor and Legislature, they argue.
Some have also argued the panel did not have the power to impose restrictions like limits on outside income and an end to legislative stipends.
But the commission’s counsel, Alan Klinger, disputed the argument.
New York, under the plan, would go from having the third highest legislative salaries behind California’s $107,240 and Pennsylvania’s $87,180, to the highest. New York City Council members, who are paid $148,500, still would make more.
The pay commission also recommended raises for the governor and lieutenant governor, who also haven’t had raises in 20 years.
But unlike with the salaries for state lawmakers, the attorney general and state controller, the panel could only recommend, not enforce, a pay raise for the state’s two highest officers since their salaries are set not by law, but by passage of a joint resolution by the Assembly and Senate, commission members said.
Under the proposal, the governor, who currently makes $179,000, would see his salary grow to $200,000 on Jan. 1, $225,000 in 2020, and $250,000 in 2021. New York’s governor would have the highest salary in the country.
The lieutenant governor, who makes $151,500, would see the salary increase to $190,000 in January, $210,000 in 2020, and $220,000 in 2021.
The attorney general and controller, who make the same as the lieutant governor, would receive the same raises over three years. But, the pay commissioners said, their raises would be automatic, with no approval needed from the Legislature.
State agency commissioners would also get raises, with the top salary hitting $220,000 in 2021 and the lowest being $140,000.
The recommendations passed unanimously, though DiNapoli, because he would be directly affected, recused himself from voting on the salaries recommendations for the statewide elected officials.
By law, the panel must forward a report of its recommendations to Gov. Cuomo and the Legislature by Monday.
The recommendations would automatically go into effect unless the Legislature returned to Albany by the end of the year to specifically vote them down, which is unlikely.
There could also be legal challenges not only to the process, but also whether the commission is legally able to set conditions on outside income and legislative stipends.
“The law says phased in compensation can be linked to timely legislative budgets and performance of the executive and legislators,” said NYPIRG’s Blair Horner. “Whether that’s constitutional, someone can sue and find out.”
A spokesman for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, who has called for a pay raise but hadn’t committed to reforms, declined comment until the report is released.
Hours before the pay raise commission’s final hearing, incoming state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins came out in support of a legislative pay raise while promising her chamber will take up a “gold-standard” bill to limit outside lawmaker income in the coming legislative session.