New York state lawmakers are step closer to being the highest paid state Legislature in the country.
The Democratic-led state Assembly and Senate in a rare December vote on Thursday approved a bill setting their salaries at $142,000 a year — a $32,000 pay hike that was coupled with a provision limiting how much money they can earn outside of their jobs as elected officials.
Democratic leaders defended the pay increase as necessary, calling their colleagues hard-working public officials who should earn pay that's competitive with the New York City Council.
But critics, including most Republicans, blasted the pay hike as unconscionable and tone deaf amid spiking inflation and recessionary concerns for most New Yorkers. The measure was approved in a largely party-line vote in both chambers.
The measure now goes to Gov. Kathy Hochul's desk for her consideration. She has previously signaled she would support a pay raise when the reported proposed increase was a $20,000 raise from $110,000 to $130,000. Lawmakers eventually settled on a larger sum that was equal to the rate of inflation from when their salary was last increased legislatively in 1999 to $79,500.
"It's something that I'm going to have to consider and act upon," Hochul said at a news conference in Buffalo after providing a storm preparation update. "I'll be looking at the facts as soon as it hits my desk."
Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins to reporters on Thursday morning acknowledged the public perception of the pay raise increases, noting lawmakers will address "affordability" issues facing New Yorkers next year when the new legislative session begins.
"This is a full-time job, I think people understand," she said. "We work hard and it was finally time to resolve the issue of pay."
Critics, however, including Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay, argued lawmakers should have held the rare Christmastime session to address issues like crime and inflation.
"Ultimately this is not the right time to do it," he said. "I think the Legislature paid just fine now. We don't need a pay raise."
He expects voters "will be disgusted, quite frankly."
"They're struggling out there, they're trying to put food on their table, they're trying to get through the day. We have other issues that New Yorkers want us to take care of," Barclay said.
Pay raises have long been a thorny issue in the state Legislature. And if the pay bill is approved, state lawmakers will still be paid less than what New York City Council members earn at $148,000.
"Legislators work very hard -- even some of the Republicans," Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said. "There's no compensation you can give to be away from your families."
Increasing legislative pay, in the past, has been packaged with other issues. And despite a last-minute push by Hochul to include changes to New York's law that ended cash bail for many criminal charges, no other measures were considered on Thursday during the session.
In the past, pay raises have been part of broader agreements to expand charter schools or deny pay outright to legislators if the state budget is not approved by April 1.
"We never, ever want to mix compensation with policy," Stewart-Cousins said. "I think they're two different things, two different conversations."
And as Republicans have called for bail law changes, Heastie acknowledged public safety issues will be addressed in 2023. But he said Democrats want to take a holisitic approach to address homelessness, housing and drug addiction.
"We know that there's a perception that people feel unsafe," Heastie. "I think a lot of it is media driven, but we're going to have to deal with that."
Lawmakers did approve a measure capping their outside pay, though there are exceptions for pensions and investment income. Some Democrats criticized the change, calling it unfair.
The limit of $35,000 of outside income will take effect by 2025.
Legislators in recent years have come from a variety of walks of life, including dentists, funeral parlor directors and barkeeps.
Assemblyman Phil Steck, an attorney in private practice, said the outside pay limit will prevent middle-class lawmakers from running.
"A lot of people who talk piously about this ban on outside income have wealthy spouses or come from wealth," he said.