New York Times | January 12, 2019
Talk about a master class in “How They Do Things in Albany.”
To keep a legislative pay increase but lose new restrictions on lawmakers’ outside income, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie is piggybacking onto a lawsuit by a conservative legal group that is seeking to overturn the raise.
In case you haven’t been following at home: During budget negotiations last year, the New York Legislature created a committee composed of current and former state and New York City comptrollers to determine whether members of the Assembly and State Senate deserved a raise, their first in 21 years. In December, the committee recommended a $50,500 raise, to $130,000 by 2021, along with a provision that lawmakers’ outside income could not exceed 15 percent of their pay — an important ethical reform to avoid conflicts of interest.
Mr. Heastie, and other legislators who objected to the outside income limits, immediately said the committee — whose recommendations automatically became law on Jan. 1 — had no legal right to do anything but decide on pay.
Within days of the committee’s decision, the Government Justice Center, an Albany-based nonprofit, sued to overturn it, saying that only the Legislature could set pay, and that the panel had overstepped its statutory mandate by imposing outside pay limits.
Hold on a minute, there, Mr. Heastie said in an amicus brief filed last Monday. The pay raise is just fine, no need for an injunction there; but if you want to overturn the outside pay limits, that’s whole different story.
The Legislature’s ability to create independent committees to set pay seems to be well established. The courts have approved at least one such action before, and the members of the recent committee seem to have reasonably inferred that the language establishing it allowed the members to set the other limits. A state judge in Albany heard arguments in the case on Friday.
If Mr. Heastie and other lawmakers did not want their moneymaking constrained, they could have voted to reject the committee’s proposal and just give themselves a raise. They did not, probably because they did not want to face voters’ wrath by granting themselves a pay raise without any ethics restrictions.
Instead, they’ve put their chips on this judicial workaround.
November’s elections made clear that voters were fed up with politicians putting self-interest before public interest. The results provided hope that the cesspool in Albany might get drained. If Mr. Heastie didn’t get the message, perhaps the courts will.Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook, Twitter (@NYTopinion) and Instagram.
© 2019 New York Times