Discussion On Pay Raises Should Be A Public Process

New York legislators should be given the opportunity to vote against a 38.3 percent pay increase that otherwise automatically takes effect Jan. 1.

The raise was recommended by the state’s Committee on Legislative and Executive Compensation. In addition to the 38.3 percent increase that takes effect Jan. 1, additional increases bump legislators’ base pay to $130,000 by 2021 — a 61-percent pay increase from their current pay. Legislators may deserve a raise, but they should have to justify it with a public vote. That is especially true since the recommendation was timed to come out after the November election, so the voting populace was effectively not consulted. The number is especially difficult to swallow in rural regions where the 2021 pay for state legislators could be as much as three times the median household income in an Assembly or Senate district. It’s hard to keep one’s finger on the pulse of a community when the community lives modestly while legislators live in ivory houses.

In addition to questions about the actual amount legislators should make, the commission’s report recommends 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.

In effect, it creates a professional legislative class. That recommendation is troubling. Many rural New Yorkers already feel their state Legislature is out of touch with the concerns of many state residents. We aren’t sure how creating a professional legislative class will remedy that situation. As state Assemblyman Andrew Goodell told The Post-Journal last week, the proposal would mean Goodell would have to stop practicing law in Jamestown in 2020 if the recommendation goes into effect. Even worse, the timing means legislators would have to make that choice in the middle of a term.

There are potential benefits to keeping legislators from earning outside income. As we have seen in the not-too-recent past, the possibility of using state positions of influence to fatten one’s wallet has been too tempting to resist. We’re not against the idea of eliminating outside income, but the discussions should be public. Legislators should have to state their intention and defend their choices.

That won’t happen, however, unless the state Legislature calls a special session and votes to reject the pay committee’s generous recommendation in favor of a public process. Goodell and state Sen. Catharine Young, R-Olean, are on record as being against the pay raise.

It’s too bad we probably won’t get to see where their colleagues stand.