|FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – DEC. 21, 2018|
A state Supreme Court preliminary injunction hearing has been scheduled for Jan. 11 on a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of large scheduled pay raises for the governor, members of the New York State Legislature and other state officials.
The suit was filed last week by the Government Justice Center (GJC), an Albany-based non-partisan, non-profit public interest litigation firm. The four plaintiffs include three citizen-taxpayers from the Bronx and Saratoga County and one member of the Legislature, Assemblyman Michael Fitzpatrick of Smithtown.
“The plaintiffs are looking forward to having their injunction request fully heard and learning how the State justifies paying these raises,” said GJC executive director Cameron Macdonald.
At issue is the constitutionality of a 2018-19 state budget provision that authorized a temporary four-member Committee on Legislative and Executive Compensation—comprised of the state and city comptrollers and two of their predecessors—to recommend pay increases for members of the Legislature, the governor, the lieutenant governor, the attorney general, the state comptroller and state commissioners and agency heads. The law said the committee’s recommendations, issued December 10, would take effect automatically unless rejected before the end of this year by the governor and the Legislature, which has no public plan to reconvene.
In a hearing in Albany today, state Supreme Court Justice Christina Ryba denied a motion by the GJC for a temporary restraining order that would have prevented the pay increases from being paid out upon taking effect January 1, 2019.
Macdonald argued irreparable harm will be done if the state comptroller’s office distributes pay raises before the lawsuit is decided. However, representatives of the comptroller told the judge that legislators and other state officials will have their pay docked if the raises are ruled unconstitutional.
The Compensation Committee last week moved to increase state lawmakers’ base salary, now $79,500, to $130,000 by 2021, with an increase to $110,000 on January 1, 2019. The committee linked the legislative pay hikes to new rules limiting lawmakers’ outside income and eliminating most leadership stipends. The lawsuit challenges the constitutionality of investing policy-making powers in an unelected body as well as raising lawmakers’ pay to a rate not fixed by law, as the state constitution requires.
The Government Justice Center, based in Albany, is an independent, non-partisan, 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.