Pay Hike’s Reforms Backed By Good-Government Advocates

From the Morning Memo:

Good-government groups largely backed Thursday’s decision by a compensation commission to increase the pay of state lawmakers and statewide elected officials over the next several years, pointing to the reforms that are due to come along with it.

The pay commission backed a 63 percent increase in pay for the 213 members of the state Senate and Assembly, boosting their pay from $79,500 to $130,000.

The pay hike is coupled with an end to stipends for most leadership jobs in the Legislature as well as a curb on lawmakers earning money outside of the Legislature, capping private-sector pay at 15 percent of their public salary.

Both of these were proposals backed by good-government advocates, as well as Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

“The Commission has done an excellent job of balancing the public interest against the very real need to raise lawmakers’ pay,” said Susan Lerner of Common Cause.

“Common Cause/NY supports the commission’s recommendations to tie any pay raise to a ban on lulus and a limit on outside income. The public needs to know that the people representing them are there to serve them only, and no one else.”

Reinvent Albany had largely backed the changes as well, adding the pay increase, the first in 20 years, will help attract and retain talent.

“The limitations on outside income and stipends are long needed reforms to move New York toward a more effective and ethical government,” the group said.

“We hope the Committee’s actions today are the beginning of more reforms to come in ethics, campaign finance and voting that will fully restore confidence and integrity in New York State government.”

But not everyone was thrilled. NYPIRG’s Blair Horner told reporters Thursday there should also have been similar limitations on outside pay for the executive branch, where the governor is set to receive a pay boost to $250,000.

“They tackled some of those issues in terms of outside income,” Horner said. “But they didn’t tackle any of the others. So we’re disappointed. We think it’s flawed. We think the commission so go further.”

Commission Approves Pay Raises For NY Pols

Elected officials in New York are in line to receive salary increases for the first time in decades based on the recommendations approved Thursday by a compensation commission composed of current and former comptrollers.

The pay commission backed pay raises for the governor, the lieutenant governor, attorney general and state comptroller as well as the 213 members of the state Assembly and Senate as well as cabinet officials in the governor’s administration.

At the same time, the compensation commission backed limits to how much lawmakers can earn in the private sector, placing a cap of 15 percent of their public salary. The commission also backed ending stipends or “lulus” for most leadership positions in the state Assembly and Senate.

The outside income limit would take effect at the start of 2020.

It’s not clear if the commission itself, approved by the Legislature and governor earlier this year to review the salaries of elected officials, can institute such change without another vote of the Legislature. The law creating the commission did link legislative pay to unspecified “performance” of the Legislature.

Under the recommendations outlined on Thursday, the governor would be paid $250,000 by 2022, up from the current $178,000. The salary would be phased in to $225,000 in 2020 and $250,000 in 2021. Lawmakers would also receive a phased-in hike from $79,500 to $130,000 by 2021.

The lieutenant governor’s salary would reach $220,000 in 2021, growing from $151,500 to $190,000 in 2019, $210,000 in 2020.

The legislative pay raise will begin to take effect in January, reaching $110,000. Their base pay would then go to $120,000 in 2020.

Once fully phased in at $130,000, the Legislature and governor would be the highest paid in any state in the country.

The commission also backed increases for the state comptroller and attorney general, increasing gradually from $151,500 to $220,000 by 2021. Comptroller Tom DiNapoli abstained from voting on the pay raise for his office.

The median household income in New York is $62,909.

For lawmakers, the pay raise would be the first pay raise in 20 years. Pay hikes for lawmakers have long been tied up in politics, with the last salary increase linked to an expansion of charter schools and a reform that stipulated lawmakers would not be paid while the budget was left unapproved after the start of the new fiscal year.

In subsequent years, pay raise pushes have fallen flat. Judicial pay, which had been increased in tandem with legislative salaries, was decoupled from this process and subjected to a pay commission.

The legislative pay commission was formed as a means of removing politics from the matter, but also insulating lawmakers from taking a vote for an issue that is likely anathema to voters for a Legislature known for its parade of corruption arrests in recent years.

Still, lawmakers have been increasingly vocal about the need for a pay raise. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie told the pay commission last week that many of his members face middle class financial concerns, such as student debt, caring for children and aging family members.

Stewart-Cousins Says Senate Dems Will Back Outside Income Limits

Incoming Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins in a statement on Thursday said her conference next year will advance legislation aimed at limiting outside income for state lawmakers.

Her statement comes as a commission examining compensation for statewide officials and members of the Legislature will meet for the final time later today and issue a report next week on whether to grant lawmakers their first pay raise in 20 years.

“I recently discussed my views on salary increases with each of the legislative pay commission members, and I was clear that a raise for New York State legislators is appropriate following twenty years of no increases,” Stewart-Cousins said in the statement.

“For many years, the Senate Democratic Conference led the fight on ethics reforms against staunch Republican opposition, and forced a vote on our gold standard outside income bill modeled after Congress. That vote was unanimously supported by our conference members at the time. Now that we will be in the Majority, my Senate Democratic colleagues and I continue to support that legislation and expect to secure its passage in the upcoming Legislative Session. We will also continue to advance other crucial reforms.”

Lawmakers earn a base pay of $79,500 and many earn more with legislative stipends for leadership posts and committee chairmanships.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said any pay hike for the Legislature should be paired with a limit or ban on private-sector income for the Legislature.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie has said he is open to limiting outside pay, but does not want to link it to any pay raise for lawmakers.

Both Sides Of Amazon Debate See Vindication In Q-Poll

From the Morning Memo:

New York City voters like having Amazon building an office complex in Queens, but are weary of $3 billion in tax breaks being given to the company in exchange for up to 25,000 jobs.

That was according to a Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday — giving ammunition to both sides in the debate over the company’s plans for New York City.

For supporters of the plan, including Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office, it was a vindication that social media isn’t reflective of the public sentiment at large. A majority of voters, 57 percent in New York City, like the idea of Amazon coming to Long Island City in Queens.

But opponents of the plan pointed to the skepticism the tax incentives, an issue that split voters. The incentives only kick if the company can prove the jobs were created.

“New Yorkers are making clear they agree that too much inequality exists in our communities and giving billions of taxpayer dollars to trillion dollar corporations makes things worse, not better,” said Sen. Mike Gianaris and Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, two prominent opponents of the deal. “It is also clear that the more people learn about the deal, the less they like it.”

The lawmakers have also not signaled they’ll back off from plans to pursue oversight of the deal or file a legal challenge against it.

Reinvent Albany’s Pay Raise Compromise

The good-government Reinvent Albany’s road map for the first legislative pay raise in 20 years would reshape how state lawmakers in New York are paid.

Currently, members of the Legislature earn a base salary of $79,500 while also earning per diems for official legislative business as well as stipends for leadership posts and committee chairmanships.

The Reinvent Albany proposal would end this system:

-Increase the Legislature’s take-home pay by 50 percent, bringing the current pay to $120,000.
-Restrict outside income to 15 percent of what lawmakers would earn, coming out to $21,750.
-Overhaul per diems by capping them aggregate at $175 per day multiplied by the number of session days, plus one extra day for each week of the session.
-Increase the pay of agency and department heads by 50 percent, or create more flexible salary bands.
-End stipends for all lawmakers accept for the Senate majority leader and Assembly speaker.

Under this proposal, top lawmakers would earn $145,000.

“Statewide electeds, lawmakers, and agency commissioners deserve a significant raise,” said Alex Camarda, the senior policy advisor for Reinvent Albany. “But compensation changes should also include major restrictions on outside income, virtual elimination of lulus, and caps on per diems.”

A commission led by former and current comptrollers will determine this month whether lawmakers will receive their first legislative pay hike since 1999.

Lawmakers are facing calls to ban or limit private-sector pay. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie has said he’s open to the idea, but said it would not be appropriate to link it to a pay raise.

Healthcare Association Of NY Lays Out Single Payer Complications

There are broad-based policy and political complications with single-payer health care, Healthcare Association of New York President Bea Grause told the Rockefeller Institute last week.

Grause in a talk at the think tank pointed to the failure of similar legislation in Vermont, a bill that ultimately failed to pass. She pointed to the need to recruit primary care doctors as well as the math surrounding potential savings for single payer.

The single payer bill in New York is facing renewed discussion as Democrats next month will assume majority control of the state Senate. The measure has been approved multiple times in the state Assembly.

“We have a lot to talk about in 2019 — certainly single-payer will be part of that,” Grause said. “I hope as part of that conversation we talk not just about whether or not to publicly finance healthcare, but to have a deeper and a richer conversation around, ‘What are we actually financing and is it meeting the needs of 19 million New Yorkers?’”

The full talk can be found here.

DiNapoli Audit Finds Hazardous Material Oversight At SUNY Lacking

An audit released on Monday by Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office found two flagship campuses of the State University of New York failed to properly monitor or restrict access to hazardous materials like nitrate teterahydrate and arsenic oxide.

The report found the campuses, the University at Buffalo and Stony Brook, found weak or lacking controls over who has access to or can buy the hazardous materials. The materials are used in both classroom and for non-classroom purposes.

“Rules to safeguard dangerous substances were not always followed at SUNY campuses,” DiNapoli said. “Weak oversight of hazardous materials could jeopardize the health and safety of students and campus communities. SUNY needs to do a better job to ensure these items are kept under lock and key.”

At five other schools that were part of the audit, the campuses at Plattsburgh, New Paltz, Polytechnic Institute, Oneonta, and Cobleskill, no internal control weaknesses were found, but auditors did see room for improvement, such as being able to gain access to labs and prep rooms without a key or assistance from school officials.

Both Oneonta and Cobleskill had completed and updated emergency response plans.

SUNY in a response letter said it would continue to provide “guidance and support” to campuses on the risks of hazardous materails.

“As there is no higher priority than the Safety of our Campus Community, the campuses will also continue to identify and assess the risks associated with hazardous materials and waste, design effective controls to mitigate those risks, and proactively prepare for emergencies, and balance those needs with the need for appropriate documentation and controls on purchasing systems,” the SUNY letter stated.

The full audit can be found here.

A Generation Of Pay Raise Politics

From the Morning Memo:

It’s been nearly 20 years since state lawmakers saw their last pay raise in New York, but the logjam could break this month pending the decision of a commission composed of current and former New York comptrollers.

But the pay raise itself has been tied up in politics for nearly a generation — a mechanism used to extract reforms from lawmakers and sharply opposed by voters.

Pay raises were last approved by Gov. George Pataki as lawmakers agreed to expand charter schools in New York and adopt a provision that they would not be paid if the state budget wasn’t finalized. The measure was meant to end budgets being approved after the April 1 start to the fiscal year, an intention that never really worked.

Since then, a potential boost in legislative pay has taken a backseat in Albany. Not helping the argument with the public was a steady drumbeat of corruption arrests of both rank-and-file lawmakers as well as top leaders in the state Senate and Assembly.

Nevertheless, legislative pay has remain a sore point for lawmakers especially in the New York City area, where many grapple with a higher cost of living. That was among the arguments made last week by Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie — a proponent of increasing legislative pay.

At the same time, the recent churn in the Legislature has been attributed in part to the higher pay on the New York City Council.

But the council has two reforms: Term limits and limits to outside income.

Heastie expressed a willingness to support changes to how much money lawmakers can earn in the private sector, though insisted nothing be linked to a pay hike.

The commission itself was sold publicly as a way of removing the politics from the decision making process itself of the pay increase. Previously, judicial compensation had been linked to legislative pay increases. The mechanism was decoupled with a judicial pay compensation board of its own.

When the pay commission last met, a parallel push was underway for a year-end special session that never materialized. No pay raise came.

NY Farm Bureau Awaits Farm Bill Passage

From the Morning Memo:

Congress could make a decision on the Farm Bill before the new year.

The 2014 Farm Bill expired on Sept. 30 amid congressional gridlock, but an temporary extender has held the legislation in place. This came much to the dismay of struggling farmers nationwide, from all sectors of agriculture, ranging from cattle to dairy to soybean production.

Disagreement around SNAP specifics, or the food stamp program, largely concerned differences in Republican and Democrat determinations on work requirements–not to mention, SNAP accounts for the most expensive portion of the bill. Decisions on crop insurance, subsidy eligibility and forest management similarly need smoothing out.

In a statement on Thursday, New York Farm Bureau President David Fisher:

“New York Farm Bureau is pleased that Congressional leaders have reached a consensus on the 2018 Farm Bill ahead of the current Farm Bill’s lapse at the end of this year. While we have yet to see specific details, we are hopeful that final passage of the legislation will give farmers some reassurance moving forward that critical risk management tools will be in place as they plan the best they can for next year.

“Improvements to the dairy safety net, the continuation of important conservation programs as well as support and research programs for New York’s specialty crop producers are much needed in this tough farm economy. The Farm Bill is an investment in our food system. It helps farm families weather some unpredictable conditions and provides consumers the reassurance that we will continue to have a strong, affordable food supply in this country. We encourage our Senators and Representatives to support the compromise legislation.”

New York farmers have been particularly concerned with tariff impositions, especially in light of the state’s close proximity to, and trade relationship with Canada.

Sexual Harassment Working Group Heartened By Potential Hearings

A committee composed of women who are victims and survivors of sexual harassment while working in state government on Thursday cheered the potential for hearings on the issue in Albany.

Senate Majority Leader-designate Andrea Stewart-Cousins in an interview Wednesday with WNYC indicated a push for new measures to combat sexual harassment as well as public hearings.

“We will be able to have the hearings and see what we need to do, if anything, to strengthen the laws,” Stewart-Cousins said in the interview.

The Sexual Harassment Working Group has for nearly a year called on lawmakers as well as Gov. Andrew Cuomo to back hearings to address how the state can combat sexual harassment and misconduct.

“The illumination of the breadth and depth of sexual harassment in New York State is long overdue. Victims across all industries deserve to be heard; workers across New York deserve to know their elected officials are ready and willing to listen,” the group said in a statement.

“We are excited to work with the Senate, Assembly, Governor, and all state officials in improving protections against sexual harassment, and we look forward to the legislature scheduling public hearings very soon.”

Democrats in January are poised to take control of the state Senate for the first time in a decade.

Lawmakers and Cuomo did agree to a slate of sexual harassment law changes, but the working group has pointed to further concerns that need to be addressed.