ALBANY — As a commission considers whether state lawmakers deserve their first pay raise since 1999, the panel might also look into whether reforms are needed in the stipends awarded to individual legislators.
The base salary of state lawmakers is $79,500, the third highest among state legislatures in the nation, behind only California ($107,240) and Pennsylvania ($87,189).
But the overwhelming majority of state lawmakers in New York also receive stipends for chairing committees, serving as minority ranking committee members, or holding leadership positions that can range from $9,000 to the $41,500 given to the legislative leaders.
Critics have long argued the stipends are used by legislative leaders to buy loyalty from their members.
According to the state pay raise commission, 160 of the 213 state legislators receive some kind of stipend that boosts their pay.
By comparison, just 15 of Pennsylvania’s 253 state lawmakers receive stipends whole in California is four of 120, the pay raise commission revealed.
In New York City, stipends were eliminated in 2016 when council pay was raised to $148,500, up from $112,500. Also as part of the raise, the city banned most outside income for council members, something that is under consideration at the state level.
The state pay raise commission, which is made up of state Controller Thomas DiNapoli, former state Controller Carl McCall, City Controller Scott Stringer, and former City Controller Bill Thompson, outlined the pay and stipend differences of state lawmakers and those in other states on Wednesday morning at the first of two public hearings set for this week.
Just four people spoke at the hearing, including Blair Horner, of the New York Public Interest Research Group, and progressive activist Mark Dunlea.
suggested that raises include geographical cost of living differences, where state lawmakers from New York City, Long Island and Westchester County would make more than those from lower cost areas upstate.
The state took into account regional differences when increasing the hourly minimum wage, Dunlea said.
“If that is a good theory for the low income workers in New York State, I see no reason why that shouldn’t be the theory for (better paid lawmakers),” he said.
Both he and Horner also called for pay raises to be tied to a restriction on outside income for lawmakers.
“The scandals that toppled the previous legislative leaders highlighted the problems with allowing lawmakers to serve two masters,” Horner testified.
While his organization is “deeply sympathetic” to the fact lawmakers have gone nearly two decades without a raise, Horner said the commission must also balance that with the growing cynicism among voters as the governor and Legislature have failed to adequately clean up Albany in the wake of widespread scandals.
Robert Schulz, who over the years has filed a host of lawsuits against the state, filed another one on Wednesday saying that the commission legally cannot raise the salary of lawmakers. Raises can only be done by laws approved by the Legislature and signed by the governor, Schulz said.
The second and final public hearing is scheduled for Friday in New York City. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie is expected to testify.