By Joseph Spector, Albany Bureau Chief
ALBANY, NY-- Leadership changes in the state Legislature this year have meant higher stipends for some state lawmakers -- and a decrease in pay for others.
All state lawmakers earn a base salary of $79,500, and about two-thirds of them receive additional pay for committee assignments that are determined by legislative leaders.
With the new legislative session that started in January, some lawmakers were rewarded with higher-profile leadership posts that come with bigger bucks, a review of salaries by Gannett's Albany Bureau found. The stipends are set in state statute.
Twenty-five lawmakers this year are receiving an increase in pay, records from the state Comptroller's Office showed. Seven are receiving less, and the rest of the 213-member Legislature are staying the same.
Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, a good-government group based in New York City, said the Legislature should do away with stipends because they are used as a way for legislative leaders to wield power.
"Stipends should end, and we should have a new approach to legislative compensation," he said. "They are used to both reward and punish lawmakers."
Lawmakers haven't received a raise in their base pay since 1998. Legislators outside the Albany area receive $165 for hotels and meals for each day they are in town. The federal government sets the per diem rate.
The largest salary increase, of $22,000, went to Assemblyman Joseph Morelle, D-Irondequoit, Monroe County, who was tapped in January as majority leader by Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan.
Morelle last year earned a $12,500 stipend for serving as chairman of the Assembly Insurance Committee. He will receive $34,500 for the majority leader post, according to records from the state Comptroller's Office.
The majority leader oversees the floor debate each day. It is the No. 2 position in the Assembly.
"There's no question that my responsibilities, and the time that I am spending relative to these new responsibilities, are dramatic," said Morelle, who was first elected in 1990.
Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins' salary increased $20,000 when she was tapped by the Senate Democratic conference to serve as its leader. The Yonkers senator's salary increased from $94,000 to $114,000. Conversely, the salary of the former Democratic leader, Sen. John Sampson, D-Brooklyn, dropped $23,500 when he left the post -- the most of any lawmaker.
Some legislators are receiving a salary boost even after losing a committee leadership position.
Sen. Joseph Robach, R-Greece, Monroe County, in January lost his Senate Labor Committee chairmanship, which came with a $12,500 stipend, as part of a bi-partisan coalition established between Republicans and the four-member Independent Democratic Conference.
But Robach received an $8,000 salary increase this year. He was named deputy Senate majority whip, which comes with a $20,500 stipend, state records show. He succeeds Sen. Charles Fuschillo, R-Nassau County, in the position after Fuschillo's stipend was bumped up to $22,000 for being secretary of the conference.
"Based on my performance and tenure in the Senate, I was offered and happy to accept the post vacated by Senator Fuschillo in the Senate leadership," Robach said in a statement.
Sen. Liz Krueger, D-Manhattan, has shunned the stipend structure, saying it makes lawmakers beholden to the legislative leaders.
But Krueger this year accepted a $20,500 stipend as the ranking minority member on the Senate Finance Committee. She said the money will help pay the rent for a midtown Manhattan district office, and any cash left over would be returned to the state.
She said the Senate GOP, which controls the purse strings for senators' offices, will give her up to $55,000 for the rent. She said she can't find a place for less than about $75,000 in her high-cost district.
"I concluded the only way to make sure my staff wasn't working on a sidewalk" was to use the stipend, Krueger said.
Some lawmakers were stripped of their so-called "lulus" by legislative leaders after alleged misdeeds. Assembly Vito Lopez, D-Brooklyn, was removed as chairman of the Assembly Housing Committee last summer after he was accused of sexually harassing young female aides. He lost $12,500 stipend.
Sen. Malcolm Smith, D-Queens, also lost a $12,500 stipend after federal prosecutors last month accused him of trying to bribe Republican leaders to win the New York City mayoral nomination.
Some lawmakers have to wait years to land a committee chairmanship.
Assemblyman Kenneth Zebrowski, D-New City, Rockland County, was elected in 2007 and earned only the base pay until this year. In January, he was named co-chairman of the Administrative Regulations Review Commission, which comes with a $12,500 stipend.
"As in any job, the more years you put in, the more you learn and the more ability you have to understand legislation, understand the system and get things done for your constituents," he said.
Buffalo Assembly members 2013 Salary (2012 salary)
Assemblyman Dennis Gabryszak $92,000 ($79,500)
D-Cheektowaga, Erie County
Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes $96,000 ($96,000)
D-Buffalo, Erie County
Assemblyman Robin Schimminger $97,500 ($97,500)
D-Kenmore, Erie County
Assemblyman Ray Walter $88,500 ($88,500)
R-Hamburg, Erie County
Buffalo Senators 2013 Salary (2012 Salary)
Sen. Patrick Gallivan $92,000 ($92,000)
R-Elma, Erie County
Sen. Mark Grisanti $92,000 ($92,000)
R-Buffalo, Erie County
Sen. Timothy Kennedy $92,500 ($88,500)
D-Buffalo, Erie County
Sen. Michael Ranzenhofer $94,500 ($94,500)
R-Amherst, Erie County