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NY legislators facing ‘middle class squeeze’ as pay raise debated

Credit: Lo-Hud

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie sought to make the case on Friday for a legislative pay raise, pointing to the middle-class financial pressures state lawmakers face — including caring for children and older loved ones as well as student loans and mortgages.

“Legislators are not insulated from the financial pressures that face their constituents,” he said, noting the majority of the state’s 213 lawmakers live in and around the New York City. “These are areas with a high cost of living, some of which have the highest cost of living in the nation.”

At the same time, Heastie told the four-man panel determining whether lawmakers could receive their first salary increase in 20 years that he is open to proposals for a ban or limits to outside income for individual lawmakers, such as earning a salary at a law firm.

But Heastie said he would not want to commit to supporting a measure linked to a raise in pay.

“We understand what people are saying,” Heastie said. “We’ve shown that we have an appetite for listening, but it’s difficult — I’m going to be very consistent — to agree to a specific piece of legislation in exchange for compensation is not something I’m willing to do.”

State lawmakers earn a base pay of $79,500 and many earn more with legislative stipends. The last legislative pay raise in 1999 was paired with a boost in charter schools in New York.

Now, a pay raise composed of former and current state and New York City comptrollers will determine whether lawmakers will receive the boost in pay.

“I believe the relevant task of the commission is what is the fair amount of compensation and that’s for the four of you to decide,” Heastie told the panel. “I think the Legislature would take your recommendations seriously, but I can’t at this point say what I’d be willing to do, because that would totally inappropriate for me to do that.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo in an interview earlier on Friday indirectly suggested the pay commission’s final report, due next month, would potentially tie the raise to a reform in how lawmakers can earn money outside of public office.

In the interview, WAMC’s expressed admiration for Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, who sits on the panel.

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