NEW YORK — Just in time for Christmas, New York lawmakers returned to the state capital on Thursday to celebrate a nice holiday gift for themselves: a pay raise that will make them the highest-paid state lawmakers in the country.
Members of the state Assembly and Senate would earn a base salary of $142,000 under a bill passed during a special session, a 29% increase from their $110,000 salary.
That would propel him past California state legislators, who are now the highest-paid legislators in the country with an annual base salary of about $119,000, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
However, New York lawmakers will also face restrictions for the first time on how much they can earn from other jobs.
Starting in 2025, outside income will be capped at $35,000. Overpayments from military service, retirement plans or investments would still be allowed.
Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, a Democrat, said lawmakers work hard throughout the year and deserve a pay raise to cover the rising cost of living.
“It’s a full-time job,” he said. “Sooner or later, in order to work, we have to raise wages.”
Senate Republican leader Rob Ort said he found the increase “clearly offensive to the people we represent.”
“Albany’s one-party ruling class continues to put its wrong priorities first,” Ort said in a statement.
Gov. Cathy Hochul, a Democrat, has said she supports the idea of an increase for the Legislature, but has not said whether she will sign the bill. Emails and text messages left for the governor’s office were not immediately returned.
Some government watchdogs and transparency groups said after the bill was introduced Monday night that it does not go far enough to regulate external revenue.
“The public really deserves to know that their elected officials are working only for them and have no other interests in mind,” said Rachel Foss, senior policy advisor for the government watchdog group Reinvent Albany.
For example, members of the US Congress are barred from earning outside income while in office in certain professions that could create a conflict of interest, such as being a lawyer.
Outside income has raised ethical and legal issues for some of New York’s top lawmakers.
Former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has died in prison after pleading guilty to participating in a devious arrangement in which he sent business to a law firm by paying referral fees to a pair of real estate developers and then backed legislation. Which used to benefit the developers.
Nevertheless, many states have a tradition that lawmaking is a part-time job rather than a profession, and have adopted the idea that a legislature should be made up of regular people with regular jobs outside government.
“When I campaigned, I heard over and over again from voters that we don’t want career politicians. That’s what it’s going to create,” said Assemblywoman Mary Beth Walsh, a Republican representing a district north of Albany.
Assembly member Patricia Fahey, a Democrat, said the increase would help the legislature retain quality members who could earn more in the private sector.
“We’ve had some unhealthy upheaval and turnover, especially from downstate members,” he said.
New York lawmakers got their last salary in 2018. At the time, it was their first increase in 20 years.
This pay increase was made possible by a list of recommendations made by a state compensation committee, but a limit on outside earnings was never imposed.
“There’s a story in New York looking at pay raises for legislators, but this is the first time they’ve taken matters into their own hands,” Foss said.