State Legislators May Vote Themselves A Big Pay Raise

12:44 AM, Nov 9, 2012   |    comments
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Buffalo, N.Y. - There have been so many state legislators arrested over the last few years that one New York City tabloid newspaper said that handcuffs had become the new fashion accessory at the state Capitol.

Get this- over the past six years, 21 different lawmakers have either been arrested, left office, or lost their seat because of criminal or ethical problems. Twenty one.

And the type of crimes that legislators have been charged with, or convicted of, sounds like something right out of a movie about the mob

Everything from shakedowns to racketeering to income tax evasion.

Just listen to some of the specifics about our lawmakers turned law breakers:

* Senator Pedro Espada: convicted this year of stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from a state-funded health clinic he ran and using the money to pay for vacations, eating out, and even his grandson's birthday party.

* Senator Vincent Leibell: pled guilty to felony corruption charges after taking more than $40,000 in kickbacks.

* Assemblyman Anthony Semenerio: pled guilty to extorting hundreds of thousands of dollars from a hospital doing business with the state.

* Senator Guy Velella: convicted of taking over $130,000 in bribes in the awarding of state contracts

You can call it a cavalcade of convictions, an epidemic of ethical problems.

Dick Dadey of the good government group Citizens Union, which has been tracking wrong-doing in the legislature for the last 13 years, calls it something else.

Dick Dadey: "It's a crime wave, more and more legislators are leaving office because of criminal charges or misconduct. The creative ways that these Albany legislators have come up with to subvert the public interest and steal from the public trust is endless."

Scott Brown: "Is there any way to compare how New York is compared to other legislatures across the country?"

Dick Dadey, Citizens Union: "New York is near the bottom third in legislatures in terms of this type of activity."

Bill Mahoney, NYPIRG: "It does appear that we do have one of the worst state legislatures in terms of our propensity for corruption and crime."

Bill Mahoney, who grew up in Amherst, is an expert on the legislature with the Albany office of NYPIRG, another good government group.

Scott Brown: "You're in Albany, you follow these guys all the time, what is it -is there a culture of corruption there?"

Bill Mahoney: "I think certainly the culture does feed the corruption. There are after session, every single day, all the nice restaurants downtown host fundraisers for the legislators. These fundraisers put legislators one-on-one with the special interests who are trying to influence legislation and are trying to do whatever they can to act the way they want. Whether it's by giving them money legally, or sometimes it's under the table."

So, given all the illegality going on you would think that legislators would be hanging their heads in shame.

Nope, it's actually just the opposite.

For the past few months, our state legislators have been quietly talking about voting themselves a pay raise.

Scott Brown: "Given all that's happened, do you think that's still possible?"

Dick Dadey, Citizens Union: "It's very possible, because things you think are not going to happen in Albany do come back out of the dark and happen."

Legislators currently make a base salary of $79,500, that's already the third highest in the nation, and many legislators make $90,000 and more by serving on various committees.

There's speculation that legislators want to vote themselves a $20,000 raise, which would bring their base salary to about $100,000 a year.

Bill Mahoney, NYPIRG: "For the past year they've been talking a lot about how they deserve a pay raise because they've cleaned up Albany. With the number of arrests we've seen in the past few months, it's very tough to say that there's anything that has been cleaned up and that the system is really better than it has been before. It'll be much tougher for them to make that argument than it was even in June."

June is when Assemblyman Speaker Shelly Silver entered into a secret settlement with two young staff members of Assemblyman Vito Lopez.

The women accused Lopez of sexually harassing them.

Silver used $103,000 in taxpayers' money to settle the claims. Lopez himself paid $30,000.

Now if legislators are going to vote themselves a raise, they'll have to do it soon - by the end of the year.

Under state law, if they don't act by then, they'd have to wait another two years before a raise could take effect.

Dick Dadey, Citizens Union: "There has been talk over the last couple of months that the legislature may come back to Albany in late November or early December for a legislative pay raise."

Now, legislators can't simply do this by themselves. First they would need the Governor Cuomo to call them back into session, and then Cuomo would have to sign off on the pay raises.

Dick Dadey Citizens Union: "It all depends on what the governor if he consents to this, gets in return for giving the legislators a pay raise."

And what could that something else be?

One of the things the governor has talked about is reforming the state's campaign finance laws, which are some of the most lax in the nation, and has contributed to the corruption we've seen.

Scott Brown: "Do you think things are going to get better in Albany, stay the same, or get worse?"

Bill Mahoney, NYPIRG: "Governor Cuomo when he ran for office made a big deal of reform. We'll always have crime in the state legislature and we'll always have corruption, but there are some ways like campaign finance reform, which we can reduce that and make the system better going forward."

The question now is will the cost of cleaning up the system be a substantial raise for a legislature that has been labeled the most dysfunctional and among the most corrupt in the country.

Email leaders in Albany to tell them how you feel about a pay raise vote:

Governor Andrew Cuomo

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos


























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