April 8, 2012

Ludicrous: Lower bar, higher pay

Nice work if you can get it!

Fred LeBrun, CommentaryPublished 08:10 p.m., Saturday, April 7, 2012

Because most of us fervently believe a pay raise for state legislators is utterly ludicrous and arrogant to the nth degree means we should worry all the more. You bet they're going to try.
This remains, after all, Planet Albany, where ludicrous and arrogant are not deal killers, but merely challenges in public perception that need professional adjustment.
Granted, more public money in the pockets of state legislators who just lately stuck it big-time to the wages and benefits of fellow public employes while protecting their own job security through bogus redistricting might take more of a lift than can be done this year. But rest assured it won't be for the lack of trying, and not just by legislators.

Gov. Cuomo, while being publicly noncommittal on legislative pay raises, has given plenty of clues that he wants raises for his commissioners and top staff. He's commented that recruitment into state service has suffered because of the existing pay scale. In the past, all these raises have been linked. So figure him to be a co-conspirator behind the scenes to make it happen, even though it will be legislators who will take the heat publicly for promoting such an unpopular idea.
So far, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is the cheese who stands alone in publicly though tentatively supporting raises, which would not take effect this year anyway, or for this Legislature. He started laying the groundwork in February when he said he couldn't make a case for it then, but that if the Legislature had another "productive" session like last year's, then maybe a case could be made. Passing a budget on time apparently defines "productive." That would seem to be setting the bar low enough for a worm to wriggle over.
So, the spin is going to be by both the governor and the speaker that because government is functioning again, raises are deserved. Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos is the lone dissenter so far, but his comment on it is as slippery as his credibility. He's said now is not the time for a legislative pay raise. Define "now," please. Is that now, as when he said it? This legislative sessions that extends until June? This calendar year?
Of course, simple logic tells us that because the Legislature didn't poop the diaper for two years in row doesn't mean members deserve bonuses. If anything, their actions remind us how much they've been overpaid going back nearly to the last time they got a raise, in 1999. Maybe we should start a class-action suit to get our money back.
What New Yorkers do not want to hear is any bleating about not having a raise in 13 years, or how insufficient the base pay of $79,500 might be. Legislators enjoy extremely generous benefits, pensions and built-in lulus that take the actual remuneration for most of them into the six-figure range.
All the while, out in the real world, a generation of workers has grown accustomed to stagnant wages, declining pensions and benefits, and having to take on second and third jobs to stay afloat. So what if legislators down in the city or ritzy suburbs have to take on their own second and third jobs? That's exactly what our Founding Fathers had in mind when they created a part-time Legislature. If the pay doesn't suit you, spare us your public service.
So, then, what strategies are we apt to see, however lame, to persuade us that those lovable legislators and state commissioners need pay raises?
Foremost will be the self-proclamation of success we've already witnessed, by the three suits in a room, grinning, beaming, backslapping. Lots and lots of photo ops. Collegiality equals smooth-running, and functional equals "give us more money." But don't look too closely at the actual legislation passed, from Tier VI retirement to teacher evaluations, which uniformly are more about show than substance.
Hide behind the skirts. As in the judicial skirts. State judges have finally gotten well-deserved pay raises, after being denied since 1999. Plus they have built-in escalators for the future. What they had to go through to get raises is a disgrace, and very much tied to the Legislature and a dismal political process. The final insult is to be used as a justification and leverage for legislative pay raises.
Bundling. A Planet Albany favorite. In this variation, tie something the public approves of to something deeply unpopular, then make it appear you can't have one without the other. Here comes an increase in the minimum wage.
A recent Quinnipiac University poll shows more than 70 percent of New Yorkers are in favor of raising the minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.50 an hour. Even some business interests are for it, if the increase can be phased in. Senate Republicans aren't slamming the door on the idea, either.
Interestingly, a Siena College poll in February revealed the public's distaste for legislative pay raises topped the seven in ten mark. Now that the pay raises and a minimum wage increase are increasingly in the news, I suspect there will be more polls on both. Although I doubt the public responses will shift much, in spite of the supposed "productive" session. But how active and adamant the attempt is to wedge through Legislative pay raises will very much have to do with how you feel about it, whether in June or after the election, when action or lack of it is most likely to occur.
flebrun@timesunion.com • 518-454-5453

Read more: http://www.timesunion.com/local/article/Ludicrous-Lower-bar-higher-pay-3466464.php#ixzz1rUPvs5Sw

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