NY Daily News | December 14, 2018 | Kenneth Lovett
ALBANY – A commission created by Gov. Cuomo and the Legislature “overstepped its constitutional and legal bounds” by granting state lawmakers their first raises in two decades while also restricting legislator outside income, a lawsuit filed Friday said.
The conservative Government Justice Center filed the lawsuit Friday morning in Albany Supreme Court on behalf of Assemblyman Michael Fitzpatrick (R-Suffolk County), Bronx resident Roxanne Delgado, and Saratoga County residents Robert Arrigo and David Buchyn.
“Rather than face the voters after implementing their own compensation decision, members of the Legislature pushed their irresponsibility on to a committee that proceeding to make its own law, redefine the job of legislator in New York, and establish a professional legislative class,” the lawsuit says.
In approving a pay raise while also limiting outside income and eliminating most legislative stipends, the pay raise commission on its own changed the job of state legislator from part-time to full-time, the lawsuit contends.
“Such a major policy decision should have been made by members of the Senate and Assembly in legislation as required by the Constitution (giving voters a chance to evaluate their decision at the ballot box during an election,” the lawsuit said. “Instead, it was unconstitutionally delegated to a committee by a Legislature that on multiple occasions in the past failed to pass laws on legislative compensation.”
The commission also tied the raises that would increase lawmaker salaries over three years from the current $79,500 to a nation high $130,000 to the state passing on-time budgets the next two years, which the lawsuit called “an unconstitutional quid pro quo.”
The lawsuit ask the judge to strike down the commission’s report and block the raise and ethics changes from taking place beginning on Jan. 1, saying the commission’s actions were “unlawful, invalid, and unenforceable.”
“The Legislature cannot delegate its lawmaking power in this way and the committee unlawfully exceeded any authority it may have had” by implementing its own policy prescriptions pertaining to outside income and legislative stipends, the suit says.
The commission was charged by the governor and Legislature with specifically addressing lawmaker salaries, which in and of itself was unconstitutional, the suit says.
In addressing outside income and stipends, committee members had argued they had the power because it all encompasses legislative compensation, which they were tasked with addressing.
The lawsuit echoes many of the arguments made by Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) and outgoing Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-Suffolk County), who could try and bring their members back to the Capitol by the end of the year to reject the commission report, but that would mean their members would also go another two years without a raise.
Spokesmen for Heastie and Flanagan had no comment on the lawsuit.
Cuomo, appearing on upstate public radio’s “The Capitol Pressroom” on Friday defended the commission and its work, saying “it’s what we knew it would be all along.”
“I do believe the lawsuit will be moot,” he told host Susan Arbetter. “I do believe the commission acted within their authority. I believe it was a good outcome–there’s a pay raise, but there are also reforms.”[
He argued a $50,000 raise for lawmakers without reforms would be unacceptable to the public.
With its board made up of representatives of prominent conservative individuals and groups, Cuomo said he believes the Government Justice Center is doing the bidding of state Senate Republicans, many of whom he charged do not want to give up their outside income.
Government Justice Center Executive Director Cameron Macdonald said his organization filed the lawsuit over constitutional issues, not to help the Senate Republicans.[
Cuomo also said that the Assembly Democrats’ “rhetoric” questioning the commission’s legal standing to restrict outside income and eliminate legislative stipends “has made the lawsuit more problematic,” though he believes the panel’s actions will be upheld.
Heastie spokesman Michael Whyland responded with a Tweet that referenced corruption scandals that have hit Cuomo’s office in recent years.
“It’s not rhetoric to question the legal authority of the committee!” Whyland tweeted. “The Assembly has never said it is opposed to reforms. Hope the Governor applauds just as loudly when proposals to reform executive agencies are being considered in light of what has happened over the last 2 years.”
The committee recommended that the governor’s annual salary be raised over three years from the current $179,000 to a nation high $250,000.
The Daily News reported on Monday that some legislative officials and lawmakers have said they believe the Legislature, which would have to vote on a resolution to enact a raise recommended by the commission for the governor and lieutenant governor, should tie any raise to reforms for the governor’s office.
Unlike with the governor and lieutenant governor, the raises approved by the panel for the lawmakers, attorney general, controller, and state agency commissioners automatically go into effect Jan. 1 unless the Legislature rejects the report before then or the lawsuit is successful.
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