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State lawmakers should not get proposed raises

September 1, 2016
Editorial , Lake Placid News

We strongly oppose a 47 percent raise for state legislators. They have a long way to go before they earn what we already give them.

For part-time work, a New York Assembly member or senator now makes a base rate $79,500 a year. That's a lot more than most New Yorkers make for full-time jobs; census data shows the state's per-capita annual income in the $30,000s and household median income in the $50,000s.

On top of their base pay, most state lawmakers make an additional $9,000 to $41,500 a year for serving on committees and holding leadership roles. They also get sweet health and pension benefits. Plus, they get $174 for lodging and food for every overnight they spend in Albany, or $59 per day if they don't spend the night. If they spend less than that amount, they can pocket the rest.

Plus, if they previously worked in a state or local government job, they can double-dip - officially retire that job and collect pension while still earning their legislative paycheck.

That's a triple-fudge sundae with whipped cream and cherries on top, all for lawmakers who really need to eat their vegetables.

New York's legislators are behind only California and Pennsylvania in pay. New Mexico's state lawmakers are given no wage at all, just $163 per diem to cover expenses. New Hampshire pays $200 per two-year term.

It's not just small-population states, either. Texas, with more area and people than New York, pays just $7,200 a year.

Many states pay their lawmakers per day they are in session. North Dakota, for instance, pays $172 a day, but its legislature only meets for 80 days in odd-numbered years - so a lawmaker gets $13,670 every other year.

Furthermore, individual lawmakers there don't get the kind of power trips ours do. We learned from an article in the July 4 issue of Time magazine that "North Dakota may be the only state that guarantees every bill a floor vote, even if it lost in committee. The rule means that Ray Holmberg, who as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee holds a title that would demonstrate awesome clout nearly anywhere else in the U.S., can say with a straight face, 'I have no power.' Bills cannot be stuffed into drawers or held hostage."

This state's low-paid citizen legislature, made up of people with other jobs, "voted on nearly 1,000 bills last session," Time said. Its headline called it "a government Jefferson could love." We could love it, too.

Yet in Albany, a state capital proven to be full of greed and corruption - dozens of lawmakers have been brought down on criminal charges to this effect in recent years - legislators try to raise their pay every year or two. Now the state-appointed, seven-person Commission on Legislative, Judicial, and Executive Compensation is considering a proposal to raise legislators' base salary to $116,900 a year.

No way, we say. So what if they haven't had a raise since 1999? The decision to pay them so generously back then has not paid off for the public. If anything, their wages should be lowered.



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