The Journal News | February 1, 2019 | Joseph Spector
State Sen. Tom O’Mara said he is considering a legal fight using his campaign cash over a committee’s decision in December to restrict state lawmakers’ outside income.
O’Mara, R-Big Flats, Chemung County, has been getting as much as $150,000 a year in salary from the private law firm, Barclay Damon LLP, but he would face losing most of it if he stays in office.
Along with a 64 percent pay raise over three years, the state Compensation Committee voted to limit lawmakers’ outside income next year to 15 percent of their public pay, which would be consistent with the limit in Congress.
But O’Mara and other opponents of the committee’s decision said it overstepped its bounds when it voted to do anything other than decide on a pay raise.
“I believe the actions of the Compensation Committee fundamentally and profoundly alter the holding of public office as a New York state legislator,” O’Mara said in a statement Jan. 27.
“This was never intended by the Legislature in the legislation establishing the Compensation Committee and, in fact, falls far outside the committee’s legally authorized powers.”
O’Mara sought an opinion from the state Board of Elections on whether he could use his campaign money to fund a legal challenge to the committee’s actions.
The board ruled Jan. 24 that O’Mara could do so, saying since the money would be used in relationship to his “duties of public office,” it would be permissible.
O’Mara, who was first elected to the Legislature in 2004, said he hasn’t decided whether he will actually file a lawsuit.
O’Mara reported he earned a salary of $100,000 to $150,000 from Barclay Damon in 2017 through contracts with a half-dozen municipalities, including ones in his district, state records show.
His legislative salary last year was $94,500, which included a $79,500 base pay and extra for a leadership post.
The state Legislature’s salaries rose this year to $110,000 and will go to $120,000 in 2020, and $130,000 in 2021. But most lawmakers, including O’Mara, are losing their stipends for committee assignments.
Some lawmakers, both Democrats and Republicans, have felt duped by the pay commission after they approved its creation last April.
The goal, lawmakers said, was for the panel to decide on a new, higher pay scale for the Legislature, which hadn’t had a raise since 1999.
But the panel broadened its scope to include the outside-income limit.
There is already a lawsuit on the panel’s actions.
The Government Justice Center, a conservative group based in Albany, filed a lawsuit last month, saying the commission’s action violated the state constitution.
Lawmakers last year could have rejected the panel’s recommendations, including the pay raise. But they didn’t, and now the recommendations have the strength of law — unless overturned by the courts.
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