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Snap Poll: Most oppose pay hike for lawmakers

Nearly two-thirds of respondents to this week’s RBJ Daily Report Snap Poll oppose an increase in New York lawmakers’ annual salary. A state commission has until mid-November to decide if state legislators will get their first pay hike since 1999.

Among those arguing for an increase in legislative salaries is Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, who sent a five-page letter to the panel last week. “A raise in compensation is warranted; indeed, it is long overdue,” he wrote.

Heastie said lawmakers’ pay should be based on objective economic factors such as inflation. Since 1999, “the real purchasing power of New York State legislators’ $79,500 fixed salary has now declined to $53,997.” he wrote. He also argued that while New York lawmakers technically are part-time, in reality they serve the public on a full-time basis, and that a “depressed salary” will discourage many qualified people from seeking a legislative position.

The Assembly speaker concluded his letter saying legislative compensation should “at a minimum match the rate of inflation,” which he says is roughly aligned with the percentage growth in median household income statewide since 1999. A Heastie appointee to the commission has proposed a 47 percent hike to $116,900, which would cover the increase in inflation over the last 18 years.

More than a quarter of respondents said it should be increased, but not as high as $116,900. This compares with 9 percent who say raise the salaries to $116,900 to match inflation since 1999.

Those who oppose a pay hike contend New York legislators already are among the highest-paid state lawmakers nationwide. Some also say any hike should be tied to ethics reforms.

The commission’s decision will take effect in January, unless the Legislature rejects it.

Nearly 675 respondents participated in this week’s poll, which was conducted Oct. 10 and 11.

Should New York lawmakers’ annual salary of $79,500—set in 1999—be increased?
Yes, it should be increased to $116,900 to match inflation since 1999:  9%
Yes, it should be increased, but not as high as $116,900:  26%
No, it should not be increased:  65%

COMMENTS:
What have they done to deserve it? Repeal the feminine hygiene tax? Allow you to be laid to rest with the cremated remains of your pet? Get a drink on Sunday at 10 a.m.? New York is $60 billion in debt. People are leaving the state like rats leaving a sinking ship. The average income for the hardworking citizens of this state is about $30,000 less than what our elected officials make for a part-time gig along with full benefits. I propose that they be paid on their performance, which is what they want to do for teachers and doctors. Start any elected official at an entry-level salary and go from there. Better yet, can you say term limits and campaign finance reform? And while you are at it, do something about the bribery and influencing in politics, or should I say lobbyists?
—Jim Gaden

It should be decreased based on their collective incompetence and inability to do anything to improve our state instead of their pockets. Based on performance, they should repay 110 percent of their ill-gotten, undeserved money!
—Mike Masters

Serious ethics reform first; pay increase second.
—Bob Franklin

Yes, even those who tolerate and implicitly condone unethical and too-frequent corrupt administration of government deserve a pay adjustment. How about $79,501?
—Dorver Kendig

I am torn between this. On the one hand, I don’t think that lawmakers generally deserve the pay increase due to the inefficient operations and scandals that have plagued Albany. However, I also think that lawmakers should not be able to receive outside income while in the state’s service. So, in order to have a broader, more diverse set of lawmakers who can do the job without having an outside income, we need to raise the pay.
—Audrey Leites

State lawmakers are far better compensated than most/all private-sector employees (i.e., salary, pensions, holidays, vacation, health benefits, expenses coverage, etc.). Coupling changes in salary to inflation is not relevant if total compensation is not at least competitive with other state lawmakers. Actually, all New York State government employees are far better compensated than private-sector employees and that is simply wrong. Ideally, all state employees’ total compensation should be competitive with private-sector employees. For example, if a government employee’s compensation was competitive with the private sector, it would include no pension; the risk of layoff on a recurring basis; annual increases in health care premiums and copays coupled with decreasing levels of coverage; minimal paid holidays, vacation and sick time; and the constant concern of being able to survive on Social Security and any savings they may have accumulated after working full-time for 40-plus years. Does that sound like the compensation package of our government employees and the reason we pay some of the highest taxes of any state in the country? When the scales between government and private-sector employment begin to balance is when I will consider an increase in pay for state lawmakers appropriate.
—Bill Wyatt

As with most private-sector positions, assure that increases are tied to accountability. Very few employers align raises to inflation, but will measure accomplishments and progress as factors to higher salaries. Using this compensation structure may encourage better performance and adherence to deadlines in Albany.
—Nancy May

The only way I would support any increase is if two things are done to the satisfaction of the electorate: 1) substantive and effective ethics reform; 2) moving total and complete control of redistricting to a certifiably independent body. If legislators can demonstrate their willingness to make real changes, then they should begin to get raises that are tied to inflation, but that are also tied to scandals. If one gets caught, they all suffer together.
—Andy Vaughan

Absolutely not! How would New York pay for it? Raise taxes? When our governing bodies figure out how to lower our taxes for individuals and businesses by a meaningful amount, then maybe it should be considered. The debacle with the STAR program comes readily to mind. This problem doesn’t just affect seniors but all people who have to receive their STAR check in the mail. How about the corruption in Albany? Clean up the government. (A salary of) $79,500 for part-time work with benefits is a pretty nice package. Many people don’t even earn that for full-time work.
—Jennifer Apetz

They should be paid a reasonable wage, but they should also have the same medical and retirement plans that average middle-class Americans have. Perhaps a higher wage will encourage more competent people to run for the positions. Then we have to be sure they do not become complacent professional politicians by placing term limits on those positions.
—Mark Williams

Even at the $53,997 (adjusted for inflation) for one-half year’s “work,” doubled to an annual salary of $107,994 (still adjusted for inflation), a legislator makes much, much more than the average worker in New York State. Add to that the various and many perks: lulus, a staff, office digs, noncash benefits, etc., and the job already pays the $116,000 or so being sought. And, almost every one of them is either retired or has a second source of active income. No justification for a raise. By the way, who are the highest-paid state legislators in the country?
—Charles Genese

No salary increase until “real” ethics reform legislation is passed by the state Legislature.
—R.W. Frye

Salaries should be increased to a sufficient full-time wage, with the caveat that legislators must be prohibited from earning outside income. Otherwise, they should receive a pay cut, recognizing part-time status, and voters shouldn’t expect their legislators to be dedicated to the job of governing, or to act without conflicts of interest. At the same time as instituting a salary increase, I would suggest adding term limits. Since this would be unpalatable to our current elected officials, it could apply only to legislators newly elected after the upcoming election, so they would be grandfathered.
—Maggie Symington

When Albany addresses the issues of corruption and too-high taxes, then they could vote for a pay raise.
—Wayne Donner, Rush

How about lowering taxes? What a concept!
—Joe Dattilo

The Legislature has to start doing their job on time, without the last-minute rushes … and also find some integrity, which they currently seem to be devoid of.
—Art Maurer

If they are already some of the highest paid in the country, I do not think they should see an increase in salary simply to match inflation. What other benefits do they receive in addition to this part-time work job salary of close to $80,000? Stipends, hotel costs, medical, state pension. In other words, what is the total compensation package worth? Would this drive up staff cost, as well? While I understand asking for more salary, do they deserve increased pay based on the performance of the state and overall rankings when compared to other states? I would like to see our lawmakers work to lower our costs in the state to help all of our salaries go further.
—Keith Newcomer

Pay should be based on performance. They should be paying us back.
—Matt Connolly

When they demonstrate they are doing something for the taxpayers of New York, then I’d consider it. They need to clean up their act re: pay-to-play and other corrupt practices used by the governor and numerous governmental agencies.
—Gene Tonucci

Pass some real, meaningful ethics reform. Then you can get your raise.
—Rob Ewanow

Are you kidding me! Don’t like it, go get a real job. For what gets accomplished, there should be a salary cut. Better yet, like it was intended: volunteer, not career.
—David Topian, Victor

You should make the increase performance-based. Two economists just won a Nobel Prize for writing contracts that benefit both parties. The performance-based compensation should also be deferred to encourage longer-term decision making and action taking.
—Chuck Masick, mit (magic institute of tutoring)

The state lawmakers’ pay should not be increased! We have one of the most unethical, corrupt, inefficient state governments in the nation. When they can get this economy moving again, get ethics reform passed and reduce one of the highest tax burdens in the nation, then they can get a pay increase. The taxpayers expect results, or else we will continue to see our best and brightest leave the state.
—Steven Brunette

The problem isn’t a raise, it is the additional income that is used to buy influence and leads to our corruption and lack of trust. Until we have a leader that wants to eliminate the problem of influence peddling, we are left with state government that looks like a “Godfather” movie.
—Daniel Herpst

Give them a raise only if they promise to stop stealing.
—George Traikos

Letting this go unadjusted for so long only makes the problem worse.
—Jim Haefner, Pittsford

Want a raise? Go back to the private sector. Politics should not be a career. How about term limits for all elected offices instead of raises. (BTW, if you remove time spent on self-serving efforts like campaigning, it is a part-time job.)
—M. Aikens

Pass meaningful ethics reform, and then we’ll talk!
—Greg Franklin, Victor

Putting aside all the rationalizations about volunteering for public service being a privilege and all the cynicism about politicians, do we really think it is fair that someone should work for 17 years without an increase in pay?
—Jay Birnbaum

I think many should just take a hike!
—Daniel Mossien

Increases should be based on results. Tough decisions need to be made to reduce expenses in New York State government that have not been made. Corruption continues and needs to be cleaned up. Taxes are one of the highest in the country and need to be lowered. Workers’ compensation, unemployment, property taxes and income taxes makes it hard to do business in New York State. Fix those issues and then make your case for an increase in wages.
—Mike Hogan

Getting a raise should be based on a report card on each lawmaker. There is none. A single raise across the board is not matching each lawmaker’s record against a standard by which a lawmaker’s record can be assessed. We seem to forget how many of our lawmakers haven’t lived up to good standards in past years and rewarding them all with a big raise doesn’t take that into account. So, NO! I don’t feel a raise is in order. Maybe if someone would create a way to measure each lawmakers performance, only then would I consider whether they deserved anything and how much.
—Grant Osman

I have a better idea. Cut their hours to part-time. This way they will have less time to pass the damaging legislation that we have been subjected to for the past couple of decades.
—Jim Weisbeck, Bloomfield

Our state legislators are not full-time! Plus, the beanies make up for somewhat lower pay. Time to bring back citizen representatives!
—John Sackett

Need to clean house; why give them a raise when they steal from us?
—Jim Alexander

Compensation of elected officials should be adjusted by non-partisan panel periodically to cover inflation. Such an approach should also be applied to fees, sales tax and bottle return, which has not been increased since 1982 when the law was passed.
—Nathan J. Robfogel

No. What have they done to make NYS better? We are consistently one of the highest-taxed states in the country. And with excessive state mandates that drive 80 percent to 90 percent of municipal budgets, many cities, counties, towns and school districts have little control of their budgets and destinies.
—Frank Duserick

What happened to pay for performance? What has the Assembly accomplished? Was it meaningful ethics reform? Was anything done to reinforce our Second Amendment rights?
—Ted Fafinski

There are several things we citizens could do to solve this pay problem for our legislators. First, we could institute term limits so that our representatives don’t make a career out of being in the legislature. Second, we could tie their pay increase or decrease inversely to whether taxes go up or down. When taxes go up, their pay goes down. When taxes go down, their pay goes up. Third: I’m more than willing to clip pizza and other fast-food coupons for the legislators like I do for my family. “Three men in a room” should always have Albany’s best pizza.
—Clifford Jacobson M.D., Vanguard Psychiatric Services PC

The state is such a horrible condition, and upstaters have been trodden upon by the downstate so horribly that they should receive a pay decrease, along with all their expense reimbursements and per diems.
—Jim Cronin

I’ve been opposed to any increase for years,but maybe it’s time to reconsider. Most argue they don’t deserve an increase; on the other hand, maybe, just maybe if they received a pay hike they may be less likely to try to scam the system (i.e., do what Sheldon Silver did). A possible trade-off might be loss of a pension if found guilty of a felony.
—Peter Bonenfant

I believe in pay for performance. Definitely no pay raise.
—Ed Rosen, Fairport

I’d have no trouble paying them more if they’d earned it. Sadly, they get less functional with each passing year.
—Hal Gaffin, Fairport

It is imperative that we address just what these political jobs are supposed to do. They really are just part-time positions, and do not require $117,000 as remuneration, therefore the current $79,500 plus committee pay and travel/other remuneration is not in any way “a minimum wage, in spite of the last time pay was adjusted.” Also, is it not time to have a serious dialogue about term limits?
—J.A. DePaolis, Penfield

They are public servants and give up their lives for/to this job. This is no “part-time” work. They should be compensated accordingly.
—Eve Elzenga, Eve Elzenga Design

10/7/2016 (c) 2016 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.

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