The four men appointed to award all 213 New York lawmakers their first raises in 20 years have four months left to sift through salary data, field public comments and make that politically charged decision. But they have yet to hold their first meeting.
By this time two years ago, a previous panel that considered hiking legislators' pay by 43 percent - but was divided and wound up awarding no increase at all - had held and webcast six public meetings and hearings, and posted video recordings, transcripts and all the written comments it got on its web site.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state lawmakers set up another raise committee in this year's state budget, but the panel hasn't convened, has no web site and has released no information about its plans in the four months since the budget was adopted. It scheduled a meeting for July 18, then canceled it. Now its members are looking for a date in September to assemble for the first time, an assistant to H. Carl McCall, the SUNY board chairman and coordinator for the committee, told the Times Herald-Record last week.
The panel was supposed to have five members, but Chief Judge Janet DiFiore declined to serve, and it's unclear if she'll be replaced. The other members are state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer and CUNY Board Chairman Bill Thompson.
The committee must decide by Dec. 10 on raises for state senators and Assembly members, as well as top state administrators and three statewide elected officials: comptroller, attorney general and lieutenant governor. Whatever increases they recommend will take effect on Jan. 1 unless the Legislature - which ended its 2018 session in June - returns to Albany to reject or change them, which is unlikely.
E.J. McMahon, research director at the Empire Center for Public Policy, calls the panel "a shameful attempt by both governor and the Legislature to avoid accountability for a decision they alone should be making in the open." Passing the job to an appointed committee and letting the outcome take effect unless vetoed "is an awful and constitutionally questionable precedent," McMahon said by email on Friday.
Lawmakers' base pay has been $79,500 since 1999, when their salaries went up by 38 percent. Most also get stipends, known as "lulus" in Albany, for various party titles or for being committee chairmen or ranking minority members. Total pay for lawmakers in this region ranges from $79,500 for Assemblyman James Skoufis to $104,500 for Sens. Bill Larkin and James Seward.
New York legislators' base pay is the third highest in the nation, behind California ($107,241) and Pennsylvania ($87,180).
The good government group Common Cause has supported raising the salary, suggesting a 42 percent hike two years ago to match inflation since 1999 and an even higher increase if lawmakers drop the "lulus" and accept limits or a ban on outside income.
But McMahon countered on Friday that while New York's department heads may deserve raises, its senators and Assembly members are overpaid by national standards, "and a strong case might be made for paying them less and limiting the time consumed by the regular legislative session."