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Legislature’s punt on pay raises now costing taxpayers

A couple of weeks ago in this space we criticized the state Legislature for punting on hard decisions.

A court decision by an Albany judge has proved us correct. At issue was a commission to examine legislative pay raises created by Gov. Andrew Cuomo as part of the 2018 state budget. The commission raised pay for state legislators by 64 percent over three years while also restricting outside income that legislators can earn. The process stunk, but at least the reforms were somewhat of a coherent package. State legislators could have overruled the commission by convening a special session in late December and making changes to the pay panel’s recommendations, but legislators chose not to do so.

Now, thanks to legislators’ inaction, taxpayers are taking the hit.

Last week, Judge Christine Ryba, a state Supreme Court justice in Albany, ruled that the pay panel was indeed empowered to raise legislators’ pay, though only for 2019. Ryba also agreed with a motion by Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie that the panel was not empowered to enact any limits on legislators’ outside incomes.

Ryba, in essence, has rewarded state legislators with a pay raise for their unwillingness to do their jobs. Now, they will be paid even more handsomely not to do their jobs.

Taxpayers should hope that a higher court overrules Ryba’s ruling. In our view, the panel shouldn’t have been able to set pay raises or enact changes to outside income; the legislature shouldn’t have been able to delegate either action. The best thing now is for an appellate court to overrule Ryba and start the whole process over — and require the legislature to do their jobs.

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