Legislative Pay Commission Expected to Increase Salaries, Ban Outside Income for State Assembly, Senate After Election Next Year

Shortly before 3 a.m. on April 1, just hours after the state budget was due, lawmakers quietly voted to establish a legislative pay commission.

The under-the-radar seven-member commission is charged with looking into the compensation of judges and legislators, and making recommendations for increases.

Last week, the commission recommended pay raises for judges, and next November it is expected to make recommendations for the legislature.

"Then it would actually take effect if the legislature doesn't block it, or doesn't act on it," said Jeff Klein, Senate Independent Democratic Conference Leader. "It happens automatically."

Legislators have not had a raise since 1999. Members of the Assembly, many of whom represent New York City with its high cost of living, have been pushing for an increase. Lawmakers currently make a base salary of $79,500, but they get stipends. They are also allowed to earn outside income.

That outside income is what led to the downfall of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver last month, when he was convicted of enriching himself personally by abusing his office.

That has made the climate for a pay boost particularly thorny, which is why automatic increases could lessen the political fallout.

Some say outside income needs to be banned entirely.

"The fundamental conflict for the legislature is that they are a part time legislature and they are allowed outside income," said Governor Andrew Cuomo. "And that clash just continues to bring conflict after conflict after conflict."

Next year, lawmakers could vote to authorize a constitutional convention in 2017, where the article allowing outside income could be changed.

"It's an opportunity, no doubt about it," said Blair Horner, with the New York Public Interest Research Group. "But the history on the public supporting these things is pretty dismal.

"In '57, '77, and '97 the votes on whether or not to convene a convention went down in defeat."

But others say you certainly don't need a convention to ban outside income.

"Absolutely, we introduced the legislation back in February," Klein said. "It would ban outside income of all types because I don't think we just need to focus on lawyers."

The commission will make its recommendations for an increase on November 15, 2016. As some have noted perhaps conveniently, a week after the election. 

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