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Snap Poll: Majority favors part-time Legislature

Following the arrest of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, some Albany lawmakers and others have said it is time to switch to a full-time Legislature with higher base pay and a limit or ban on outside income.

Nearly two-thirds of respondents to the RBJ Daily Report Snap Poll still favor a part-time Legislature.

A slight plurality—one-third—favor New York having a part-time Legislature with a limit on outside income and greater disclosure.

Slightly fewer readers—32 percent—favor a part-time Legislature with no limit on outside income, but greater disclosure.

While groups such as the National Conference of State Legislatures categorize New York’s legislative body as full time, its lawmakers are in session six months each year and many hold outside jobs. In a recent speech on ethics reform, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said 84 of 213 state lawmakers have outside income; 17 of those made more than $100,000, with Silver reporting the highest amount—more than $650,000 in 2013.

Since 1999, N.Y. lawmakers have been paid $79,500 annually, which today ranks third nationwide. In California and Pennsylvania, full-time lawmakers are paid $90,526 and $84,012, respectively.

Legislators in New York also get per diem payments, currently $172 for each day they spend in Albany; that amount is more than their peers in most other states receive.

Common Cause New York supports a full-time Legislature with a higher base pay and a ban on outside income. Reform advocate Bill Samuels and his EffectiveNY organization recently proposed increasing lawmakers’ pay from $79,500 to $125,000 while capping outside pay at 15 percent—as Congress does—and ending “lulus,” or leadership bonuses.

In contrast, critics say a full-time Legislature will not solve corruption issues and will make lawmakers even more insular.

Though Cuomo says “the cleanest solution” would be a full-time Legislature earning a “decent salary” and no outside income, he instead proposed requiring that lawmakers disclose “all the outside income they receive, from who, for what and whether there is any connection to the state government or the office that they hold.”

Some 520 readers participated in this week’s poll, conducted March 2 and 3.

Some think New York should have a full-time Legislature. Which of the following do you favor?
A part-time Legislature with a limit on outside income and greater disclosure: 33%
A part-time Legislature with no limit on outside income but greater disclosure: 32%
A full-time Legislature with a higher base pay and a ban on outside income: 21%
A full-time Legislature with a higher base pay and a limit on outside income:12%
No change (outside income not capped, limited disclosure):2%

For information on how the Snap Polls are conducted, click here.

COMMENTS:
How many wish we made $79,500 for part-time work? Raise your hands! How many wish they made $79,500 for full-time work? Raise your hands! I don’t think our elected officials have anything to complain about for “part-time” work. I don’t think paying them more will change the “corruption” of some elected officials. Corruption is always there. We are supposed to be electing “ethical” people of the highest standards to represent us.
—Jennifer Apetz

If we truly want citizen-legislators instead of professional ones, then moving to a full-time Legislature is counterproductive. Instead, we should institute term limits, while allowing legislators to remain active in their industries to facilitate a return to the private sector once their service is complete.
—Matthew Wilson

Full-time; no outside income. Sounds good, but it will never be approved by the Legislature. Special interests have too much to lose. Think of all the law firms that would lose millions of dollars (witness Sheldon Silver). I truly wish I could be more optimistic.
—Peter Bonenfant, Fairport

Most states operate on low-budget part-time Legislature without problems. Many limit the number of bills that can be introduced in order to increase the Legislature’s efficiency and effectiveness. Let’s look at benchmarking top-performing Legislature with the help of the National Conference of State Legislatures and adopt best practices. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel regarding our governance practices, nor do we need career politicians. Let’s bring back the idea of citizen legislators.
—Bob Volpe,
Highland Development Services

How about a “full-time” Legislature with unchanged base pay and much greater disclosure?
—George Dounce

If one is corrupt, he or she is corrupt no matter how much money they make. You can’t “buy” ethics!
—Donna Gillespie

They currently meet roughly 60 days a year, and three-fourths of that time is wasted on one-house bills and ceremonial stuff. Why would we want a full-time Legislature? Makes no sense at all. We need more legislators who work in the private sector and understand taxes and regulations, not more full-time politicians who are clueless about business and creating jobs.
—Bob Sarbane

Seriously? Will the Legislature use the suggestion that they become “full time” to justify a pay increase this year? As it stands now, three (or four) men in a room make the policy and law for New York State. Why would we want to pay all the other legislators to sit around and wait for the decisions to exit that room?
—Tom Gillett, NYSUT

They can be like the rest of work force, work harder and longer hours for the same pay. Ask anyone that works for Corporate America today. This is what is required in today’s work force. This is from a person that has been downsized three times from corporate America. Each time because companies cut back work staff for the good of the stockholders. We are all stockholders of New York State. We all want more return on our money and taxes. We need better people in Albany, so you cannot limit how much they earn outside Albany. Just has long as it does not conflict with their Legislature job.
—Harold H. Ley,
Stoney Point Consultant

Let’s make sure any change also includes the elimination of the per diem benefit.
—Rob Ewanow

I definitely do not want to see full-time, full-career politicians/lawmakers. Do they ever sign Conflict of Interest disclosures? Making $80,000, plus another $3,000 to $12,000 in per diem and others, along with a pension, is already a lot for a government that is often considered weak and corrupt. All in all, and New York lawmakers will like this, create more regulation around disclosure of income and conflicts of interest, along with transparency around what constitutes “corruption” or violates the office.
—Keith Newcomer

No, no, a thousand times no for full-time legislators. We already have full-time U.S. congresspeople/senators and their idea of full-time employment means working two and one-half days a week during the weeks that they actually are in session, which seems to be about two weeks a month.
—Faye Casey, retired

For more comments, go to rbjdaily.com.  To participate in the weekly RBJ Snap Poll, sign up for the Daily Report at staging.rbj.net/dailyreport.

3/6/15 (c) 2015 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.

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