Okay, let’s get down to it. Is it fair that the New York State Legislature has gone forever without a pay raise? I mean, how would you like to go from year to year without a raise?
Employees of the public radio stations I run have had a two-percent pay raise annually, even during the great fiscal crisis. People work very hard, and no matter what anyone tells you, we have been experiencing a lot of inflation. Even the fiscally conservative governor and the Legislature have somewhat grudgingly called for a raise in the state minimum wage.
Hey, if you live in New York City or environs (which many of our legislators do), you are talking some of the highest prices in the nation. You’ve got to be just about a millionaire to own a one bedroom co-op in the city, and frankly, a million dollars isn’t worth as much as it used to be. Hell, a ride on the subway is $2.75 and that’s only one way! I remember when a Pepsi Cola was only a nickel. So come on all you Scrooges, it’s Christmas time, don’t you see?
Well, let’s hold on a minute. Governor Andrew Cuomo, who is having a tough ethical time himself, has been after the Legislature to clean up their act and pass ethics reforms that would give people a little more faith in those they have chosen to represent them. The governor even appointed a blue ribbon commission to make recommendations on whether the solons should get raises. Now this commission, which has been labeled everything from toadies to cronies of the governor, said an emphatic “No” to the legislators, presumably because they didn’t go along with ethics reform including the big daddy of the group, an agreement to limit so-called outside income.
So let’s talk about that for a minute. We all know that the part time income of legislators comes as a result of their power. Many of them make a lot of money and I have certainly written about that before. The Congress of the United States had to put a rein on how much federal legislators could make. But these people in the New York Legislature just won’t go along.
In fact, no less a big shot than Boss Heastie of the Bronx who is now Speaker Heastie of the Assembly became quite annoyed with Governor Cuomo’s apparent offer to trade a pay raise for ethics reform. Boss Heastie seemed indignant that the mean old governor would dare to stoop so low to as to offer a deal because the Legislature doesn’t seem to make such deals. Now there’s a joke.
In fact, a limit on outside income is just one small reform that is necessary. Many states, like Massachusetts and California, have initiative and referendum under which the people can vote for things like a limit on outside income or term limits for legislators, both of which would be passed in a New York minute. You can bet that our legislators are never going to let that happen although initiative and referendum are proving very popular in New York City which has passed, among other things, limitations on how long mayors and City Council members can stay in office.
So let’s be real. These power mongers want it both ways. They want to continue to rip us off and they want to argue that the governor is trying to push them around. Most people know little to nothing about how the state Legislature operates. If those of us who feel strongly about how our legislators are taking us for granted were to send a post card or make a telephone call to the people we elect, we might see some change.
Boss Heastie and Senate Majority Leader Flanagan ought to be ashamed of themselves. Let the members of the Legislature do right by us and we’ll be happy to raise their pay.