It has been 20 years since members of the New York Legislature got a raise, and we’re not opposed to them getting one now.
But if legislators get a raise, we want something substantial in return, and what we want is financial transparency.
A state compensation committee voted Thursday to make New York legislators the best-paid in the country, increasing their salaries from from $79,500 to $130,000.
The increase would be phased in over three years, beginning with an increase to $110,000 on Jan. 1.
The pay compensation commission, made up of current and former state comptrollers, also backed pay raises for the governor, the lieutenant governor, attorney general and state comptroller along with the governor’s cabinet officials.
The commission recommended a cap on how much lawmakers can earn in the private sector at 15 percent of their salary. It also backed ending the stipends, known as lulus, that legislators get for serving in leadership positions.
Legislators are considered part-timers now, although that description will seem even more misplaced with the higher salaries recommended by the commission.
The median household income in New York is $62,909, and legislators will soon be earning almost twice that under the commission’s recommendation. On top of that, the commission would allow them to make another $19,500 at a second job.
It can be valuable for our political representatives to stay connected to the world of work outside of politics, but if that is going to be allowed, legislators should also be required to reveal the sources of their income. That means lawyers and other professionals must reveal who their clients are, and business owners must reveal who they’re signing contracts with.
Too often, we have seen legislators influenced in their public duties by money funneled to them through private business dealings. This sort of corruption has flowered in New York with the crimes committed by Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos and myriad others, but it would wither under the public scrutiny that financial transparency would provide.
The financial disclosures required from legislators now are vague and non-specific. They should be made detailed and precise. Our state senator, Betty Little, has led the way by filing her tax returns along with her state financial disclosure forms — every legislator should do that.
Now that a raise has been recommended, the Legislature has until Jan. 1 to reject it, or it will become law.
The commission’s recommendation does not address all of the issues associated with political corruption in New York.
It does not, for example, close the “LLC loophole,” which allows political donors to give almost unlimited amounts of money, anonymously, to their chosen candidates by creating a series of limited liability corporations to make the donations.
New York needs a comprehensive ethics package, but that may have to wait. A pay raise bill can carry only a limited amount of reform on its back before it collapses. What cannot wait is full financial disclosure.
We wonder how this pay raise recommendation will be greeted by the public, and we would not be surprised to find broad opposition. Unfortunately, the corrupt practices of some legislators have convinced much of the public that none of them deserves a raise. That perception must be addressed along with any increase in salary, and transparency is the way.
Legislators are being offered the big raises they say they deserve. They can prove it by embracing financial transparency, too.