In 2011, when a perfectly workable panel finally and successfully boosted salaries for state judges, who had gone without a raise for a dozen years, Albany lawmakers decided to glom themselves onto the panel — which, predictably, backfired. The Assembly and Senate crowded aboard because they were too chicken to raise their own pay and simultaneously accept much-needed reforms, like sharply limiting outside income.
So in 2016, the now-enlarged panel deadlocked on legislative pay hikes. So frustrated was Speaker Carl Heastie that he set up a separate pay committee. The special committee did grant big raises starting in 2019, but also imposed curbs on outside earnings. So Heastie sued the state and successfully convinced the trial judge to keep the raises but toss the restrictions. State Attorney General Tish James then suspiciously dropped her appeal, giving Heastie the cash, but not the limits.
Meanwhile, the expanded judicial pay panel that lawmakers had forced themselves onto has just decided in light of COVID to zero out raises, which seems fair. Gov. Cuomo is right to forgo his scheduled January raise, as should the other statewide elected officers.
This should not be the end of the tale. The Government Justice Center is continuing its suit to knock out the 2019 legislative pay raises, the same ones that James folded on. The case will soon be heard by an appellate panel in Albany. We had supported the raises provided they came with the outside income cap. Once Heastie managed to scotch that reform, the whole deal ought to fall apart. And lawmakers should be docked the extra money they’ve wrongly pocketed these last two years.
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