Members of the New York State legislators want a pay hike.
At $79,900 a year for part-time jobs, New York lawmakers are the second-highest paid in the country, second only to California. When you add on the extra pay for positions such as committee chairmanships, salaries can run close to $120,000.
An easy comparison with neighboring states shows Connecticut pays its legislators $28,000 a year; New Jersey pays $49,000.
In 2004, New York University’s Brennan Center named our legislature the most dysfunctional in the country. The center said our legislators were rated “worst” in accessibility, accountability and efficiency. And it said that the New York State Legislature does the worst job in reflecting its constituents’ views.
The shortcomings of our legislators over the years have provided an unwelcome stream of actions and inactions for this page to criticize.
If that isn’t bad enough, the criminal record of some members is both unacceptable and shocking. One got a two-year prison term; another was convicted of fraud and conspiracy. And the former head of the State Senate, Joseph Bruno, was indicted on bribery charges.
Lawmakers have done better in recent years in some respects. The last two budgets have been timely and restrained, but that has more to do with the salutary influence of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and the problems of a weak economy.
In any case, two years of meeting basic obligations after decades of dysfunction is hardly cause for funneling even more money to legislators who are already highly paid. It makes no sense.
We understand that state lawmakers have expenses that most other New Yorkers do not, principally the cost of maintaining two residences (although the receive a “per diem” stipend of $171 each full day the Legislature is in session and $61 each half day. But there are better ways of dealing with this problem. Here’s a good one: Let them resign.
One of the biggest problems Albany creates in New York is that, through a variety of artifices, lawmakers have shielded themselves from effective competition at the ballot box.
That unhealthy form of stability has for decades allowed lawmakers to act with impunity, causing them no fear of voter rejection. Giving incumbents a raise will only encourage them to stay longer.
Better to encourage incumbents out the door and to make way for fresh ideas from candidates who might think $79,900 a year, plus a raft of benefits, is a reasonable amount of money. If the incumbents are as good as they think they are, they can top that pay by toiling in the private sector and open the way for new blood in the Legislature.
By the way, 80 percent of New York taxpayers oppose a pay hike for legislators. Maybe it’s time for our legislators to start thinking about a pay cut.