New York lawmakers face deadline: Pass a timely budget, get a pay raise
ALBANY – New York lawmakers have a potent incentive to help make sure they pass a $175 billion state budget by Sunday's deadline: A $10,000 pay raise.
The state's 213 lawmakers are scheduled to see their base pay increased from $110,000 to $120,000 on Jan. 1, 2020, as part of a three-year schedule approved by the state Compensation Committee last year.
But state law says that raise takes effect only upon the "timely legislative passage of the budget." The next fiscal year begins April 1, meaning the Legislature has to approve a series of budget bills before the end of Sunday in order for the spending plan to be on time.
It's not only lawmakers, either.
Agency commissioners appointed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, as well as the state attorney general and comptroller, are also due a Jan. 1 raise that will take effect only if the budget is on time.
Budget talks continue behind closed doors
Cuomo, a Democrat, said earlier this month that he is hoping to salvage the pay raise for his commissioners, who he has long complained are underpaid and could make much more working in the private sector.
"The pay raise — the last person who wants to lose the pay raise is me because I just hired commissioners based on the new salary, you know," Cuomo said March 12 on WAMC-FM.
Cuomo and legislative leaders huddled behind closed doors Monday to discuss hold-ups to a budget deal, including congestion pricing in lower Manhattan and criminal-justice reforms the governor says must be in a final agreement.
Later, Assembly Democrats appeared to clear one of the major remaining hurdles, saying they back congestion pricing — a toll on drivers below 61st Street in Manhattan — in concept but acknowledging there were still details to work out.
"I think things are progressing well," Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx, told reporters.
Publicly, lawmakers say the pay-raise issue has no bearing on their push for an on-time budget.
First raise in 20 years
Lawmakers hadn't received a raise for 20 years before their base pay was increased from $79,5000 to $110,000 on Jan. 1 of this year.
Commissioners had gone the same time period without a raise, with the highest-paid ones now making $190,000 after making $136,000 over the past two decades. It's scheduled to increase to $210,000 next year.
Speaking to reporters earlier this month, Heastie said the pay-raise issue "has not come up one time in my discussions" with Assembly Democrats.
In years where the budget has been late, lawmakers have had their paychecks suspended under state law, he noted.
"Members had gone 20 years without a pay raise, and they still did the right thing," Heastie said. "When I first got in my first year, I went six months without getting paid. Members didn't come up here and get elected and run for office just to worry about that."
The pay raises were approved by the state Compensation Committee, a four-member board that was tasked by Cuomo and the Legislature last year with deciding whether lawmakers, commissioners and statewide elected officials deserved their first raise since 1999.
The committee ultimately did grant a raises on a three-year schedule, but tied the legislative pay hikes to a strict limit on outside, private income — a decision the Assembly is challenging in court.
A raise for Cuomo, too?
Raises were also recommended for Cuomo and Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, with the committee suggesting they should make $250,000 and $220,000 a year by 2021.
But under the state Constitution, the governor and lieutenant governor's salary are set by a joint resolution of the state Legislature, which has not yet passed it, meaning neither Cuomo nor Hochul have received a raise.
At an unrelated press conference earlier this month, Heastie and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers, said they had not yet discussed the issue.
On Friday, Cuomo said he hasn't taken a position on whether he deserves a raise, nor has he discussed it with legislative leaders.
"We've talked about salary raises often, but never my own," Cuomo said.
He continued: "I didn't take a position on it. I didn't want to have a personal agenda in the discussion about pay raises, so I never took a position on myself."