Bill would give New York the nation’s best-paid legislature

View of the New York state Assembly Chamber as members meet on the opening day of the 2021...
View of the New York state Assembly Chamber as members meet on the opening day of the 2021 legislative session at the state Capitol in Albany on Jan. 6, 2021.(Hans Pennink | AP / Hans Pennick)
Published: Dec. 22, 2022 at 10:09 AM EST
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ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Just in time for Christmas, New York legislators are set to return to the state capital Thursday to give themselves a nice holiday gift: a pay raise that would make them the nation’s best-paid state lawmakers.

Members of the state Assembly and Senate would make a base salary of $142,000 if the bill passes during a special session, a 29 percent raise over their current salary of $110,000.

That would send them racing ahead of state lawmakers in California, who right now are the nation’s best-paid legislators with a yearly base pay at about $119,000, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

New York’s lawmakers, however, would also face restrictions for the first time on how much they can make from other jobs.

Outside income would be capped at $35,000, starting in 2025. Pay from military service, retirement plans or investments would still be allowed.

Some state lawmakers have long argued that their pay hasn’t kept up with inflation or the increased cost of living in places like New York City.

Senate Republican Leader Rob Ortt, however, said he found the raise — backed by the Legislature’s Democratic leadership — “patently offensive to the people we represent.” He said that the high cost of living and violent crime are top issues for New Yorkers.

“Albany’s One Party Ruling Class continues to put their own misplaced priorities first,” Ortt said in a statement.

Some government transparency and watchdog groups said after the bill was introduced late Monday that it doesn’t do enough for regulating outside income.

“The public really deserves to know that their elected officials are working just for them and they don’t have any other interests in mind,” said Rachael Fauss, a senior policy advisor at the government watchdog group Reinvent Albany.

Members of the U.S. Congress, for example, are excluded from making any outside income while they are in office from certain professions that could pose conflicts of interest, such as being a lawyer.

Outside income has posed ethical and legal problems before for some of New York’s top lawmakers.

Former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver died in prison after he was convicted of entering into a corrupt arrangement in which he got a pair of real estate developers to send business to a law firm paying him referral fees, and then backed legislation benefiting the developers.

New York’s legislators got their last pay raise in 2018. At the time, it was their first raise in 20 years.

That pay boost was made possible through a list of recommendations made by a state compensation committee, but a cap on outside earnings was never implemented.

“There’s a history in New York that looks at pay increases for legislatures, but this is the first time they are taking matters into their own hands,” Fauss said.

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Maysoon Khan is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow Maysoon Khan on Twitter at: twitter.com/MaysoonKhan.