THE BLOG
01/25/2012 03:21 pm ET Updated Mar 26, 2012

Pay Hike for Albany Legislators? Nah

Talk about a non-starter.

This week the top Democrat in the New York state legislature floated the idea that the lawmakers deserve to get pay raises.

"More and more members are full-time members of the Legislature, and it's significant that their salaries haven't kept pace with inflation for the last 13 years,'' Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver told Fred Dicker of the New York Post.

Even Silver didn't seem to have his heart in it. "People understand that before there can be a discussion of pay raises, there has to be a change in the performance level of the Legislature,'' he said.

When it came to change of performance, Silver seemed to have in mind markers like a repeat of last year's success in passing an on-time budget. Only in New York would the legislature's ability to accomplish its one crucial obligation on the day it was due be regarded as a major civic triumph.

Silver represents a safe district on the Lower East Side. The people he has to please on a day-to-day basis are not the voters, who would probably rather burn the money in a large bonfire on the steps of the state capitol. Silver's audience is the Democratic Assembly members who keep electing him Speaker, and they undoubtedly have a different view of this matter.

But let's take a look at the facts:

The legislators haven't had a raise since 1999. Score one for the pro-raise crowd.

The legislators make $79,500 in base pay. Plus per diems of $165 for food and lodging every day they're in Albany. And 70 percent get extra stipends, affectionately known as "lulus," of up to $41,500.

The lulus are for leadership positions. We have a legislature in which 70 percent of the members are leaders. It's reminiscent of the Garrison Keillor joke that in Lake Wobegon, all the children are above average.

Even after 13 years of stasis, New York pays the third-highest legislative salaries in the country. Michigan's is about the same and California -- where government is even more dysfunctional than New York -- pays its members $113,098.

Silver noted that a number of the legislators now work at the job full time. That might be a decent trade-off. Require the lawmakers to give up their outside employment and we'll talk. That would include the Speaker, who like many members of the legislature has a second job as a lawyer for a firm for which the association cannot help but be lucrative.

And second, dial down the pensions. There was a great public outcry recently over estimates that Carl Kruger, who recently became the latest state lawmaker to be convicted of corruption charges, will be eligible for nearly $70,000 a year in pensions for his service as a corrupt state senator.

Albany's new ethics law should stop this kind of irony-laden situation for the next generation of corrupt lawmakers. But the interesting thing is really the dollar amount. The state is trying to find a way to cut back on pensions for future state employees. Let's start with the legislature. A $70,000 annual pension for a part-time job?

Now you know why there's almost no turnover in the state legislature.