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No pay raise

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New York state legislators will have to wait another two years for a pay raise, if Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo fails to call a special session of the Legislature.

That was the plan leading up to the elections. At least before Superstorm Sandy hit the region. Now, the New York Post’s Frederic Dicker reports, the storm has derailed plans for a lame-duck session. Mr. Dicker quoted an unnamed source as saying that Gov. Cuomo’s “focus is on the flood. He doesn’t have the time to focus on the other complex issues that would be on the table for the special session.”

The pre-election understanding was that Gov. Cuomo would agree to give lawmakers their first pay raise since 1999 in exchange for their support on other issues, such as a minimum wage hike and campaign financing reform. Lawmakers receive a base salary of $79,500 for what is considered a part-time job. They also receive additional compensation for travel and lodging expenses when the Legislature is in session along with “lulus” or stipends for legislative leadership duties and committee assignments.

A vote was needed since legislators are constitutionally prohibited from raising raise their salary during their two-year term of office that starts Jan. 1. Any pay hike approved after that will not take effect until 2015. Lawmakers could use the delay to find a permanent alternative to the present method of granting legislative pay raises beginning with decoupling their pay from other elective or appointed offices.

For years, legislators refused to give state judges a pay hike without also receiving one themselves. However, they finally relented by creating a special commission to recommend judicial salaries that would take effect unless blocked by the Legislature without regard for legislative pay. This year, judges began receiving the first of a scheduled three-year pay hike.

Now legislative pay is linked to top state commissioners and other top executive branch appointees, who also have gone without pay hikes for 13 years. Gov. Cuomo has indicated he would support raising salaries for both legislators and appointed officials. The offices are distinct, and the officeholders deserve to be compensated based on their duties rather than held hostage to legislative pay. A debate over pay raises should look at ending the link, possibly replacing it with something similar to the judicial commission or, as in Congress, automatic hikes tied to the cost of living unless blocked by legislative vote.

Discussion of legislative salaries should consider ending stipends and lulus by rolling their costs into a higher base salary that recognizes the job of senator and member of the Assembly is a full-time job.

Lawmakers can expect opposition to a pay hike rushed through in the midst of the costly recovery from Sandy’s devastation and state Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli’s report of lagging revenues. However, a delay will give them another two years to examine possible reforms and the merits of a pay raise in an open and public debate.

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