There was a lot of chatter and angry recriminations this week about the possibility that state lawmakers will return to Albany for a special session this month to resuscitate an expired salary commission that failed to give them raises last month, along with a growing list of legislative demands Gov. Andrew Cuomo was making as an apparent exchange for the panel hiking their $79,500 base pay.
There was no indication by Friday whether there would in fact be a special session, nor what proposals the Republican-controlled Senate and Democratic-controlled Assembly might agree on, other than reauthorizing the panel to hike the salaries of the members of both chambers before Dec. 31 – the last chance they have to get raises for the next two years. Also unclear was just how much more money they would get if legislative leaders and Cuomo are able to hash out a deal.
The only available evidence is in what had been proposed a previous meetings of the salary commission and what was said before it dissolved in rancor on Nov. 15. Roman Hedges, a legislative appointee and the only commission member to throw out any actual numbers, suggested 47 percent raises in July, which would boost legislators’ base salaries – not including the stipends most members also get – to $116,900. He then argued in September that raises for lawmakers and state commissioners should actually be as high as 76 percent. By November, when decision day had arrived, the figure he put on the table was 43 percent.
Cuomo’s appointees blocked the proposal that day by refusing to vote. But Fran Reiter, who spoke for them, suggested raises higher than 47 percent – and maybe than 76 percent – were in store if lawmakers would agree to limit or forsake the outside income they are now allowed to earn. She even dangled the salaries of U.S. Congress members – $174,000 – and New York City Council members – $148,500 – as considerations. Here’s the quote from Freiter to keep in mind in case lawmakers pack their toothbrushes for a pre-holiday session:
“Accordingly, should the legislature pass reforms that mirror those of the United States Congress, including a cap on outside income, we are prepared to recommend and approve at a reconvened meeting of this commission a salary substantially higher than any discussed so far by this commission, taking into consideration Congressional and New York City Council values.”