Challenging the constitutionality of pay raises

When an unelected committee approved pay raises for the state’s legislators, GJC filed a lawsuit alleging the raises were unconstitutional. A Supreme Court justice agreed with GJC, striking down two scheduled pay raises as well as a ban on state lawmakers’ ability to earn outside income. The New York Court of Appeals recently granted arguments on GJC’s challenge to the unconstitutional delegation of lawmaking power to the committee.

A state constitutional challenge to pay raises approved by the Legislature earlier this year for Governor Andrew Cuomo and Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul was filed in state Supreme Court today by the Government Justice Center (GJC), a non-partisan legal center founded to protect taxpayers from government overreach and abuse.

The resolution in question raised the governor’s salary from $179,000 to $200,000, with further increases to $250,000 by 2021 conditioned on “timely” approval of the state budget. The lieutenant governor’s salary similarly could be raised from $151,500 to $220,000 by 2021.

“Section 7 of Article XIII of the New York Constitution in plain language prohibits increasing or diminishing the compensation of the governor or lieutenant governor during the term for which they are elected,” said Cameron Macdonald, GJC’s executive director. “By approving retroactive raises three months into the new terms for those offices, the Legislature blatantly ignored this prohibition, and Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s payment of the higher salaries also violates the Constitution.”

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Saratoga County resident Robert Arrigo, seeks an injunction blocking the pay hikes.

“Regardless of any arguments that might be made for raising these salaries for the first time in 20 years, ignoring the state constitution sets a dangerous precedent and threatens the rule of law in New York,” Macdonald said. “No one should be above the law, and we should expect more from the legislators and state officers who take oaths to support our constitution.”

The Government Justice Center, based in Albany, is an independent, not-for-profit legal center that provides pro-bono representation and legal services to protect the rights of New Yorkers in the face of improper action by state or local governments. Taxpayers can request the GJC’s assistance here.

The complaint can be found here.