Democrats defended the 29 percent pay increase that will serve as an a nice holiday present, saying their salaries were stuck at $79,500 for 20 years before jumping to $110,000 in 2019 after a recommendation from a special compensation committee. The deal also includes limiting lawmakers’ outside income to no more than $35,000 a year.
“It’s a full-time job. People are working throughout the year, and to wait until 20 or 30 years (for a raise) isn’t reasonable either for lawmakers,” Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins told reporters.
The Legislature has a roughly 60-day session in Albany that runs three to four days a week from January through June, and then occasionally reconvenes if a pressing issue arises — like in July when lawmakers came back for a day to vote to toughen gun laws after the Supreme Court tossed the state’s century-old concealed carry law.
The rest of the year is spent dealing with constituent work in their districts, lawmakers said.
“This is the right thing to do,” said Senate Finance Chair Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan). She said people shouldn’t be discouraged from running for office “because I won’t be able to meet my bills.”
Still, even with New York’s high cost of living, the increase far surpasses any other statehouse in the nation, and legislative leaders in New York can get up to an additional $41,500 a year in stipends.
Pennsylvania pays its lawmakers $95,432 a year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Some other elected officials in local and national office receive bigger salaries than New York State lawmakers. Washington, D.C., pays its council members $152,813 a year, and New York City Council Members make $148,500. Members of Congress earn a base pay of $174,000.
Republicans said the pay raise sends the wrong message to constituents at a time when inflation is cutting into families’ budgets. They urged their colleagues to also pass measures to lower taxes. A $140,000 a year salary can be double or triple the average household income in some of their districts, opponents said. The pay raise is expected to cost taxpayers about $6 million a year, Republicans said.
“It’s supposed to be the season of giving. Instead it’s the season of taking,” Sen. Sue Serino (R-Poughkeepsie) said during the Senate debate.
Gov. Kathy Hochul, who earns $225,000 a year, has expressed support for the pay raise and is expected to sign the bill. She tried briefly to get lawmakers to take up changes to the state’s controversial bail laws as part of the agreement, but was rebuffed. Lawmakers said they didn’t want to tie policy to salary increases.
New York law prohibits a siting legislature to give itself a pay raise. So lawmakers had to vote now in order to give the Legislature that takes office in January the increase, although next year’s members are largely the same individuals who composed the body this year. If they didn’t act before Jan. 1, they’d have to wait until 2024 for another shot at a pay raise.
“Legislators work hard, and we’re about to come into session in January to continue trying to do the best we can for families in the state of New York,” Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) told reporters. “This is more of a timing issue.”