Pay raises must translate to better value for taxpayers
New York’s 213 legislators just became the highest-paid state lawmakers in the nation.
Considering how high taxes are in the Empire State — New York residents have the highest tax burden in the nation, with New Yorkers forking over roughly 12.75% of their personal income to state and local taxes, according to online personal finance website Wallethub — it’s no surprise that the base pay for our legislators would also surpass even that of lawmakers in California.
Under a new law that went into effect on New Year’s Day, state lawmakers will now be making $142,000 a year, 29% more than the previous salary of $110,000.
On one hand, it makes sense for state lawmakers to get a pay bump. Though a $110,000 salary in the Adirondacks would go very far, in New York City and surrounding areas downstate, that’s not the case. And theoretically, state lawmakers who make more money would be less likely to be swayed by those seeking to curry favor with them.
But a 29% raise, especially at a time when inflation and the rising cost of living are already making it difficult for the average New Yorker to make ends meet, is extremely distasteful, to say the least. And for Gov. Kathy Hochul to sign this bill not long before being sworn in for her first elected term as governor sends a message — and not necessarily a good one.
Let’s be clear: This is a job that’s supposed to be about public service, yet lawmakers are now getting paid more than most of us will ever get paid, and about twice the median household income in the U.S. In the Adirondacks, state lawmakers are now being paid about as much as school superintendents. Saranac Lake Central School District Superintendent Diane Fox makes $152,244 per year; Keene Central School District Superintendent Daniel Mayberry makes $135,127; Tupper Lake Central School District Russ Bartlett makes $135,000 and Lake Placid Central School District Superintendent Timothy Seymour makes $128,153, according to seethroughny.net, a website run by the Empire Center, an independent nonprofit think tank. (Two local superintendents, Michael Francia, of the AuSable Valley Central School District, and Noelle Short, of the Long Lake Central School District, make closer to $100,000 per year.)
We’re not so sure that the day-to-day workload of a state official is comparable to that of a superintendent, and the legislative calendar is definitely shorter than the school year.
To make matters worse, a $35,000 cap on outside income included in the new law won’t go into effect until 2025. That means that this nearly 25% cap on outside income earned by state lawmakers — which is already way too high, considering member of Congress have a cap of around 17% — will be delayed for seemingly no good reason.
Our local representatives in the state legislature — Sen. Dan Stec, R-Queensbury and Assemblyman Billy Jones, D-Chateaugay — both voted against this pay raise. That deserves some praise, but at the end of the day, they’ll still receive the pay raise.
With this pay raise, state lawmakers need to prove that this taxpayer money is being well-spent. They need to show how they value our tax dollars through the quality of their work. The state budget needs to be approved on time, costs need to be cut to help alleviate the heavy financial burden carried by taxpayers and the state legislature needs do that while ensuring that the state Department of Environmental Conservation still has the resources it needs to safeguard residents from the impacts of climate change. That would be a start. And if lawmakers fail to show that this pay raise was worth it? Well, voters will have a choice to make come Election Day.