A handful of conversations with members of the Assembly reveals that many are very unhappy about the Compensation Committee’s proposed pay increase. “We got hosed,” says one lawmaker.

During budget negotiations last March, state leaders hastily created the committee which didn’t even hold it’s first meeting until last month. After taking public testimony ( of which there was very little ), the Committee Thursday proposed raises up to $110,000 in 2019, $120,000 in 2020 and $130,000 in 2021.  Legislators currently make $79,500.

But members of the legislature say this pay scale is unfair for several reasons. For beginners it doesn’t tie any future increases to inflation. That’s precisely how we got into this situation in the first place. Lawmakers haven’t had a raise since 1999. They feel the $130,000 figure is a bit arbitrary and didn’t consider the rising costs of housing, inflation or other critical indexes. Former New York City Comptroller Bill Thompson, who is a member of the committee said those factors were, in fact, considered when setting the rates.

The committee also voted to limit outside income. Some legislators believe that is an entirely different discussion that should be held outside the scope of the committee, which they believe was charged solely with evaluating lawmaker pay. There are real consequences to this change from a part time to a full time legislature. For example, Assemblyman John T. McDonald owns a pharmacy in the Capital Region. According to his financial disclosure form, he earns between $50,000 and $100,000 per year. If the pay commission vote becomes law, he may have to sell it because earning that much money is now prohibited. Reached by phone McDonald says,

The message I got from the Compensation Committee is that if you are a professional of any sort, you’re not welcome in the legislature.

Some lawmakers complain that there should at least be a distinction between earning outside income going forward, and business owners who worked in the private sector before they chose to run for office. Then there is the elimination of stipends, which lawmakers also find unnerving. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie has not said so publicly but he was described to me as being “livid” about the committee’s vote Thursday.  In fairness, stipends have also traditionally been used by leadership as  an incentive to keep members happy, so a loss of such incentives takes away a critical tool of the Speaker’s, as he tries to maintain loyalty among members.

Finally, there is a provision that would require lawmakers to pass an on time budget in order to hit the final tier of $130,000 in year three. Some lawmakers consider that just straight up extortion. And they note that the Commissioners in the Executive branch, who will also get a sizable raise, are under no such parameters based on their job performance. Although if the budget is late in year two, the commissioners don’t get raises either.

I suppose the moral of the story here is this: be careful what you wish for. Creating a Compensation Committee under the cloak of darkness and sticking in into a $150 Billion budget just days before it passes is not exactly the best way to do government. Clearly there was not a meeting of the minds among the leaders about what exactly the scope of the commission should be. Governor Cuomo wants the pay raise attached to reforms, Heastie thinks that’s a separate issue. Incoming Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins thinks the raise should also be tied to reforms, but she did not take part in negotiating the process here, current Majority Leader John Flanagan did.

Lawmakers are back in Albany next week. The Assembly is set to conference Wednesday afternoon. Should be a doozy.