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New York State lawmakers make – we won’t say earn – at least $79,700 a year for their part-time jobs, second-highest in the nation after California.
They get an extra allowance for leadership positions and generous per diem payments while in Albany. They have pensions other New Yorkers would sacrifice a thumb to have.
With all that, they don’t need a raise.
This is worth mentioning again, because Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is talking about calling a special session of the Legislature after the election. He has mentioned what he wants to see out of a special session and hints that, perhaps, there could be a trade that would get them a raise.
It has been a long time since lawmakers have voted to raise their pay. The last one came in 1999. But for most of the years between then and now, legislators performed abominably, producing late budgets, spending too much money and deepening New York’s damaging reputation for being unfriendly to business.
What is more – and as pointed out in the 2004 study that labeled this state’s Legislature as the nation’s most dysfunctional – lawmakers perform few duties but to vote the way their legislative leaders instruct. Why do they need so much money for that?
Rather than debating a pay raise, the better argument is whether these part-time legislators deserve the pay they are already receiving. The state is in terrible fiscal shape. The private sector has been taking it on the chin and in the wallet for years. Why shouldn’t the country’s second-highest-paid lawmakers take a cut to set an example?
And these legislators haven’t exactly built sterling reputations. If there weren’t so many members being arrested or otherwise caught with their hands where they shouldn’t be, they might have a stronger case. But not much.
Nor does it help that what Cuomo is looking for in return for the pay raise includes an increase in the minimum wage. The increase that has been discussed, rising to $8.50 per hour from $7.25, would put New York’s rate higher than all of its neighboring states. That’s not helpful for the state with the nation’s worst business climate.
An increase in the minimum wage might be defensible – the mere existence of one presupposes that it will be periodically reviewed – but it should be handled at the federal level so that New York’s competitive position isn’t made even worse. And it definitely shouldn’t be red meat dangled in front of lawmakers lusting for a pay raise.
The other issue Cuomo mentioned as a goal for a special session is to loosen marijuana laws to alleviate problems caused by New York City’s execrable stop-and-frisk laws. People stopped and frisked are subject to a misdemeanor arrest when their marijuana is publicly displayed during what is often an unwarranted police intrusion.
That law is worth considering, given the civil liberties violations inherent in stop-and-frisk and the fact that those carrying marijuana weren’t violating that particular law until police required them to.
That is a terrible situation, and lawmakers should not need to be bribed with a pay raise to fix it.