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Pay hikes for legislators? No way, they say

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If state legislators are going to vote for a pay hike, they’ll have to do it without the votes of the north country’s delegation.

Representing areas with some of the highest unemployment rates in the state, Democrats and Republicans alike quickly distanced themselves from chatter in Albany that the matter would come up for a vote after the November elections. Legislators, who are paid $80,000 a year, haven’t seen a pay hike since 1999.

Their base salary increases with legislative perks, such as chairing a committee.

And it’s good enough, at least according to Northern New York legislators.

“I don’t believe there’s a need to raise legislators’ pay,” said state Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton.. “When I went into the undertaking, I knew what the pay was, and I believe it’s sufficient.”

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, supports hiking legislators’ pay, and given the strides the Legislature made in 2011 — passing an on-time budget relatively unmarred by the scandals of years past — the prospects are brightening for a post-election hike. And Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said raises for commissioners should happen “at some point” to attract top-flight talent, according to the Associated Press.

North country legislators are unpersuaded. Unions have taken pay freezes and many community organizations and school districts are buckling under the weight of funding cut after funding cut.

“I wouldn’t vote for a pay increase at this time, just because there are so many people that are hurting,” said Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa. “We’re only one year into demonstrating that we can be a functional government. I think we have a little bit more to do to justify supporting a pay increase at this time.”

Ditto for Assemblyman Kenneth D. Blankenbush, R-Black River.

“The reason is because the state is in a financial situation that we’re in, I think it would be the wrong time to be asking for pay raises, where everybody else, we’re asking them to cut,” he said.

Different groups are sending mixed signals about the prospects of a pay hike. Because legislators can’t increase their salaries and must wait until the next two-year session, the next window of opportunity would be in 2015, leading some observers to speculate that a pay hike will be approved quietly after the election-year dust settles.

State Sen. Joseph A. Griffo, R-Rome, said he doesn’t see such a plan afoot.

“I’ve not heard such a thing,” Mr. Griffo said. “I think it’s inconceivable right now when you consider the circumstances. I would not support such a proposal.”

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