BETWEEN THE LINES: A show of hands, how many of you think our state legislators deserve a pay raise?
Not too many hands.
Now, if they were to get a raise, how many think that a 26 percent hike, the amount that has been reported, is too much, even though they haven’t had an increase since 1999?
That’s more like it. Almost all of you agree that’s too much. It’s like they’d be making up for lost time with an average of two percent a year for the last 13 years, which is when they got their last pay boost.
The current salary would jump from $79,500 to $100,000. But, in return, those noble lawmakers would sacrifice the $165 per diem they now receive when they’re in session. When you tally the numbers, legislators would give up just over $11,000 for a 67-day session — the standard annual legislative session — for a sizeable $20,500 raise.
And let’s not forget, some Albany politicians earn up to an additional $25,000 when they get stipends (also referred to as “lulus”) for plum assignments, such as a committee chairmanship or other leadership positions. That should also be forfeited with any significant increase.
When the hopes of a pay raise faded a few months ago with the end of the last session, the rumor mill began that crafty lawmakers would try to push it through in a lame duck session after the November 6, 2012 elections and before the start of the 2013 state legislative session in January.
Current legislators cannot approve a pay increase for themselves, but it looks like they’re trying to pull a fast one, so those elected or reelected for the next session in January will get a pay boost.
They’ve got some nerve. What have they done to deserve it? Show up?
Being a state legislator is a part-time job. While some legislators spend more time on the job than others, many have rewarding law practices or some other rewarding profession that probably takes precedence — except when they’re in session — over their responsibilities to constituents, who they represent year round. They are, however, not allowed to vote on legislation that might conflict with their other career.
Furthermore, up until the last year or so, the New York State Legislature was known as “the most dysfunctional” in the country. There hasn’t been much of an improvement, despite the last two rare, on-time budgets. And let’s not forget the assorted political scandals that forced several former members to resign. While it may be only a few rotten apples out of several hundred, until they institute reforms for themselves, any pay raise should remain on the back burner.
Future salary increases should be on the ballot. Then our state politicians would really see what the voters think of the job they’re doing.
Right now, or two months from now, they’ve got chutzpah even discussing the matter as we slog through the continuing economic situation. It’s the wrong message at the wrong time.
During an interview last month, an upstate Republican told a radio talk show host, “This is not and should not be a full-time job. If there are legislators who can’t live on the salaries that are given…then go and get another job.”
He’s absolutely right. If you take a job and aren’t satisfied with your wages, find another one. And don’t let the door hit you on the way out.
Another reason they don’t deserve an increase is because Senate Republicans recently rejected a meager $1.25 more-an-hour state minimum wage increase from $7.25 to $8.50-an-hour, but drool over voting a hefty hike for themselves.
Altruism in Albany, it seems, is rarer than a blue moon.
For a bunch of part-time politicians, who work fewer days each year than public school teachers, but earn more than them, especially when you add reimbursements for travel expenses to and from Albany back to their districts, they’ve got a heckuva lotta nerve!
The stock defense for salary increases for public servants is that to get the best and the brightest assembly members and senators (an ironic exaggeration when it comes to most Albany politicians), they should receive wages proportionate to the job and their commitment. In Albany, mediocrity seems to be the bar that most legislators attain but never exceed.
If legislators feel they truly deserve a pay raise, let them postpone it and prove they’re worthy of it. Then, if it’s still practical, put a proposition on the ballot and let the state’s voters decide if elected state representatives in Albany merit higher salaries. After all, we put ’em in office, so we should determine if these secretive, hardly-working legislators get a wage hike with taxpayer dollars. If voters approve, then — and only then — should the raise be granted in the succeeding legislative session.
Until that time comes, I think they can manage on the current wages they’re being paid for a part-time gig. Most New Yorkers can only hope to see that salary level in their lifetimes.
Times are tough and the fiscal state of the state ain’t great. Therefore, it’s more practical if our state legislators continue to bite the bullet and make do — like the rest of us — until they merit an increase and the economy stabilizes, whichever comes first.
Neil S. Friedman is a veteran reporter and photographer, and spent 15 years as an editor for a Brooklyn weekly newspaper. He also did public relations work for Showtime, The Rolling Stones and Michael Jackson. Friedman contributes a weekly column called “Between the Lines” on life, culture and politics in Sheepshead Bay.
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