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Time for a raise?

For lawmakers held in generally low regard by their constituents, proposing to vote themselves a pay raise—and doing so right after a general election—probably is ill-advised. Or maybe it’s a shrewd move; that seems to be the conclusion some in Albany have reached.

Either way, the idea is out there. Whether it goes anywhere remains to be seen.

The argument in favor of hiking New York legislators’ pay boils down to this: They have not had a raise in nearly 16 years and, well, you get what you pay for. The first part is indisputably true: The last raise—a 38 percent jump to $79,500—took place in January 1999.

The second part of the argument, however, is highly debatable. An analysis from the National Conference of State Legislatures shows that only two states nationwide—California and Pennsylvania—pay their lawmakers more than New York does. Many pay much less, including New Hampshire, where lawmakers receive $200 for a two-year term.

Yet being highly paid compared with most of their peers has not helped in the eyes of New Yorkers. Polls show that a majority think Albany is dysfunctional and lawmakers—not the governor—get most of the blame.

Base salary, of course, is only one form of compensation for New York lawmakers. They also receive per-diem payments—$172 a day. As with salary, per-diem pay here is higher than in most other states.

And because the Legislature in New York is in session only half of the year, many lawmakers have income from other jobs.

If legislators do not convene a special session and return to vote for a pay raise by Dec. 31, a legislative pay hike could not occur until January 2017. Which sounds fine. That would allow for sufficient time to explore and hold public hearings on proposals to change the system of compensation.

Reform could include dropping per-diem payments—a move backed state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. Performance benchmarks also might be considered, along with ways to increase transparency.

Yes, almost 16 years is a long time to go without a raise. Regardless, New York lawmakers have much more to do before they’ve earned one.

12/5/14 (c) 2014 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.


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