Stipends Are A Stain On State Leadership

We don’t doubt that it is legal for the state Senate to spend thousands of dollars in leadership stipends to legislators who don’t actually hold leadership positions.

Being legal and being ethical are entirely different matters.

The New York Times last week reported some lawmakers had been incorrectly marked as committee chairmen in state payroll documents to receive greater stipends. According to the Times, at least three Republicans and three members of the Independent Democratic Conference, a faction of rogue Democrats who ally with Republicans to give the Senate its majority, were awarded stipends as chairmen though they rank as vice chairs. The actual heads of the committees had not taken the stipends because they accepted higher compensations for other Republican leadership roles. Those unclaimed stipends are then available to be given to other senators. Most New York senators are paid thousands of additional dollars per year called “lulus” for various committee roles in addition to their base salaries of $79,500. Lawmakers who hold multiple leadership positions can only take one stipend.

The Senate on Saturday released a memo from its top lawyer saying the additional compensation is allowed under a state law that allows for unspecified pay for senators serving in a special capacity. John Flanagan, Senate majority leader, told The Associated Press the stipends were offered to vice chairs based on seniority, expertise and agreements with members.

That may be true, but that’s not the way it looks. Appearances are important in the cesspool that is state government. It looks as if the Senate Republicans threw some additional money at members who helped Republicans keep control of the chamber and then hid the payments in an arcane stipulation in state law. The Senate certainly didn’t act publicly while doling out taxpayer money to senators who hadn’t done the work for which they were paid. This should be the last time leadership bonuses are paid to senators who don’t serve in leadership positions. The Senate should close this loophole.