A four-man appointed panel approved three annual raises for state lawmakers on Thursday that will make them the highest-paid state legislators in the U.S. in a few weeks and hike their salaries to $130,000 by 2021.
The increases are the first for the Legislature since 1999, when lawmakers hiked their base pay by 38 percent to $79,500, where it has remained. The three-step pay hike approved Thursday will raise salaries for all 213 senators and Assembly members to $110,000 in January and $120,000 in 2020, and will amount to a 64 percent total increase in a little over two years.
The appointees who were empaneled this year to award raises and did so at a webcast meeting in Manhattan were SUNY Chairman Carl McCall, CUNY Chairman Bill Thompson, state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli and New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer. The committee also approved or recommended major pay increases for Gov. Andrew Cuomo and three other statewide elected officials, and for top administration officials in Albany.
Assemblyman Karl Brabenec, a Deerpark Republican who won a third term in November, criticized the legislative raises after the pay committee's vote, saying in a phone interview that state lawmakers don't deserve salary increases until they make headway on three critical issues: property-tax relief, infrastructure improvements, ethics reform in Albany.
"Right now, we don't deserve merit pay," he said.
Brabenec also objected to the Legislature delegating the raise decision to an appointed committee, which he called an abdication of their responsibility and violation of the state constitution. He argued that Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie should call Assembly members back to Albany to vote on the committee's salary decisions, which he said he would vote against.
Jonathan Jacobson, a Newburgh Democrat elected to the Assembly last month, said he didn't care what his Assembly salary was and also would vote against legislative raises in the unlikely event that the Legislature was convened for such a vote. But he disagreed with Brabenec on giving appointees the responsibility for raises, saying lawmakers are too scared of a public backlash to do it themselves.
"Sometimes, you have to have an outside committee to do this, because otherwise you would never have a change," Jacobson said. "It's a difficult situation to deal with."
Several other state lawmakers from the mid-Hudson region didn't respond to requests for comments on the decision.
New York lawmakers currently have the third-highest salaries in the U.S., behind California ($107,240) and Pennsylvania ($87,180). They will move to the top of the list on Jan. 1.
In a separate vote on Thursday in which DiNapoli recused himself, the state pay committee voted to raise his salary and the attorney general's from $151,500 to $190,000 in January, $210,000 in 2020 and to $220,000 in 2021.
The panel didn't have the authority to raise the governor's and lieutenant governor's salaries, but recommended the Legislature raise Cuomo's pay from $179,000 to $200,000 in January, $225,000 in 2020 and $250,000 in 2021. Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul's pay would rise from $151,500 to the same amounts as the attorney general's and comptroller's salaries, under that recommendation.
"I do think these numbers are consistent with legislators and state leaders who really are giving their all," said Stringer, calling it "stark" that legislators hadn't gotten a raise in 20 years.
The committee called for eliminating most of the stipends lawmakers are paid for committee and party leadership titles, which add $9,000 to $41,500 to the base salary for a majority of lawmakers. Committee members said they supported extra pay for leaders with heavy workloads like the Senate majority leader and Assembly speaker, but didn't specify how many or which other stipends they would retain.
The committee, which must spell out its decisions in a report by Monday, also supported restricting how much income state lawmakers can earn in the private sector by following an outside-pay limit that Congress uses. But it was unclear exactly what restrictions it proposed to establish and whether it meant to impose them without legislative approval.