Lawmaker Pay Concerns

Goodell, Young Call On Special Session To Vote On State Legislators’ Salary Increase

Both state Legislature representatives for Chautauqua County are against the proposed increase in salary for state lawmakers.

Earlier this month, a state Committee on Legislative and Executive Compensation voted to raise the pay for state legislators for the first time in 20 years. A 61 percent increase will be phased in during three years, with legislative pay going from the current $79,500 a year to $110,000 on New Year’s Day. Additional increases in 2020 and 2021 will bump up the total to $130,000.

Only California and Pennsylvania pay their legislators a higher base salary than New York does. If salaries in those states remain unchanged, New York’s state lawmakers would be the highest paid in the country by 2021.

State Sen. Cathy Young, R-Olean, said there needs to be meaningful reforms to battle corruption in areas such as procurement in state contracts and projects to end the “pay to play” culture that has ripped off taxpayers.

“The issues that need the greatest attention were not addressed by the commission, and that’s a real shame,” she said. “I do not support the commission’s conclusions and given the chance to vote on the pay raise, I will emphatically vote ‘no.’ I urge legislative leaders to convene session before the end of the year so that we can weigh in.”

Young said she believes state legislators should have a chance to vote on the committee’s conclusions.

“Like me, many legislators have expressed serious concerns about the panel’s decisions,” she said. “Those concerns have overshadowed the process and undermined the credibility of their recommendations. We need a public airing and a vote.”

State Assemblyman Andy Goodell, R-Jamestown, also opposes the pay increase and has requested a special session of the state Legislature to revise the salary proposals.

“I knew what the salary was for a state Legislator when I decided to run for re-election. While I could make more money as a full-time private attorney, I really appreciate the opportunity to represent Chautauqua County in the New York State Assembly. Public service has always been an important tradition in my family,” he said. “It is inappropriate to dramatically increase the salary of a legislator after the election. Winning an election for public office should not be like winning the lottery, with a chance to score a big salary increase after the election.”

The compensation committee also recommended that certain professionals like accountants, financial advisers, insurance brookers and attorneys would not be able to earn outside income while other legislators who are employed by a company or business would be able to earn up to 15 percent of their legislative salary from outside income.

Goodell said if the proposal, which would go into effect Jan. 1, 2020, was to become law, he would have to stop practicing law as an attorney in Jamestown.

“This would occur in the middle of a legislative term, which means all the legislature would effectively either be terminate or restricted to outside employment or they would have to resign from the state Legislature. Our founding fathers for our country were all very successful business men and professionals who served as very effective citizen legislators,” he said. “I made a commitment to do my utmost best to represent Chautauqua County in Albany for a two-year period. That is a commitment I intend to honor. It would be disappointing if I have to shut down the law firm that has been in my family for more than 70 years and layoff my employee because some committee made up of prominent Democratic politicians from New York City are opposed to individuals with practical private sector experience serving in the legislature.”

The four-member pay committee is made up of state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli; New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer; SUNY Board of Trustees Chairman Carl McCall, who is also a former state comptroller; and former New York City Comptroller Bill Thompson.

The committee also recommended increasing the pay of the governor from the current $179,000 salary to $250,000 in 2021. That increase would need to be approved by lawmakers.

The legislative pay raise will go into effect automatically on Jan. 1 unless lawmakers vote to reject it. The pay committee must submit its decisions in a formal report by Monday. Lawmakers aren’t scheduled to reconvene until the 2019 session begins Jan. 9.