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NY lawmakers vote to raise their pay to $142K, making them the highest-paid state legislators in U.S.

The New York State Capitol.
New York Now
The New York State Capitol.

Democrats who lead the New York State Senate and Assembly voted to raise their pay by $32,000 a year to an annual base salary of $142,000.

But not everyone is on board with the action.

The salary increase from the current $110,000 base pay will make New York lawmakers the highest-paid of any state, surpassing California legislators, who earn $119,000 a year.

Senate Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins acknowledged that lawmakers voting to raise their own pay is politically unpopular. She said that’s why it’s only the second time in 24 years that the Legislature has received a raise.

“I don’t expect anyone to like it,” Stewart-Cousins said. “I’m sorry that we are in the position that we have to do it.”

While $142,000 is considered a comfortable salary in upstate New York, it does not go as far in downstate regions. New York City Council members make $148,500.

Under the bill, outside income will be limited to $35,000 a year, with some exceptions. Several past legislative leaders were convicted of federal corruption charges connected to improperly leveraging their outside jobs in bribery and kickback schemes.

Republicans, who are in the minority in the Legislature, spoke out against the pay raise.

Sen. Jim Tedisco said it’s politically “tone-deaf” to increase salaries when New Yorkers are facing high inflation at the grocery store and rising home heating prices.

“You gave yourself a tremendous bonus for the holidays. You know what you gave your constituents? The largest lump of coal that anybody has ever received,” Tedisco said. “Even the Grinch, who you probably conferenced with before you came out here and gave you some direction, couldn’t get that lump of coal down the top of the chimneys.”

Tedisco said the money could be better spent on preventing an upcoming increase on Thruway tolls or extending the gasoline tax holiday, which expires at the end of the month.

Recent polls show New Yorkers are concerned about the economy and don’t think the state is going in the right direction.

Senate Finance Committee Chair Liz Krueger defended the measure, saying lawmakers are hardworking and even “overcommitted” to their jobs. And she said any legislator who doesn’t want the additional pay can inform the state comptroller, who manages state payrolls, and ask him to hold back the money.

“You can send him a letter explaining you don’t wish the salary raise, and you won’t get it,” Krueger said. “I will not be sending that letter.”

Gov. Kathy Hochul also sought to include other issues in the session. She wanted to make changes to the state’s controversial 2019 bail reform laws, which ended most forms of cash bail.

But legislative leaders rejected those offers. Stewart-Cousins said it’s unseemly to connect policy matters with compensation.

“We never, ever, want to mix compensation with policy,” she said. “They are two different things, two separate conversations.”

Stewart-Cousins said she’s well aware that the state faces an affordability crisis. She and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie say lawmakers intend to tackle those issues when the new legislative session begins in 2023.

“We do have a serious affordability issue, housing crisis,” Heastie said. “That’s a big area of concentration for us. We want to make sure that people can afford to live not only in New York City but throughout the state.”

Hochul, meanwhile, was not in Albany on Thursday. She instead visited Niagara Falls, where she announced plans to open a new visitors center.

The governor is expected to sign the pay raise into law.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for the New York Public News Network, composed of a dozen newsrooms across the state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.