Photo Credit: Jewish Press

State Lawmakers Are Shown The Money

All 213 state lawmakers – whether they are just starting their tour of duty as a legislator or they have been in office for 20 years – will receive $30,500 more in their paychecks in 2019 than they thought they would get during the 2018 campaign.

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Consider this: Assemblyman Dov Hikind (D – Midwood / Boro Park) was first elected to the Assembly in 1982 when state lawmakers’ salaries were approximately $30,000 a year. His salary upon retirement was $79,500. As the assistant majority leader, Hikind received a stipend in excess of $10,000 in addition to his base salary.

His successor, Simcha Eichenstein, will start off his legislative career with a base annual salary of $110,000, and upon re-election, if successful, will earn $130,000 a year in 2021. Eichenstein ran unopposed to be Hikind’s successor. Imagine running for public office being comfortable with the $79,500 salary, and then after winning and not spending one day in office you see a paycheck that is $30,500 more than expected, a 38.3% increase.

To offset the budget impact of the huge pay hikes, the state compensation committee, a four-member panel comprised of former comptrollers and the incumbent comptroller, also decided to eliminate most legislative stipends and limit the amount of outside income state lawmakers can earn.

While state lawmakers will be the highest paid legislators in the country, they still earn less than their counterparts on the New York City Council. (Of the 51 city council members, 11 are former state lawmakers.) New York City Council members have earned $148,500 a year since 2016.

State agency commissioners and other department heads will see their pay increase to as much as $220,000 a year in 2021. There are many who are officially deputies and yet serve in an acting capacity as the agency leader. If they were to officially become commissioner of their agencies, they’d actually make less. The commissioner’s salary is dictated in statute, but not the underlings. There are any number of reasons why a deputy may make more money, including union contracts that force salary increases.

Statewide office holders – the attorney general, comptroller and lieutenant governor – will also receive a pay bump from the current $151,500 to $220,000 in 2021 with a three-year staged increase.

The governor will see his salary get a $71,000 boost by 2021 to $250,000 from the current $179,000 annual salary.

A lawsuit has been filed in an effort to block the pay hikes, claiming that it was unconstitutional for the pay commission to act as it did.

Of the 30 Jewish lawmakers contacted by The Jewish Press to comment on the pay raise issue, only one lawmaker responded.

Assemblywoman Deborah Glick (D – Greenwich Village, Manhattan) says the rationale used by the members of the pay commission does not add up to a rational conclusion.

“It is an odd thing to present that you are trying to compensate people for their work and then say if you do additional work you shouldn’t be compensated,” Glick, who is 10th in legislative seniority and a 28-year veteran, noted.

The result of this compensation plan for state lawmakers is expected to attract a different type of candidate in the future.

“The direction it’s moving in is having very young, unattached legislators who have not had a lot of life experience and perhaps much older people who are retired and have time on their hands and have no particular need for reasonable compensation,” Glick, 68, points out. “Even with a raise, I will be making $38,000 less than NYC Council members after my number of substantial years of experience.”

When told about the angst and dissatisfaction about the compensation report, former state comptroller H. Carl McCall said, “What are they upset about? Do they want more?”

Also of note, entering the next legislative session, there will be a record number of Jewish state lawmakers: 30 in total or 14% of both houses.

There will be eight Jewish Senators – four men and four women, one Republican. Freshman Senator Anna Monahemi Kaplan (D – North Hempstead, Nassau County), hails from Tabriz, Iran. Simcha Felder (D – Boro Park, Brooklyn) remains the only observant Jew sitting in the upper house.

In the Assembly there are 22 Jewish members – 9 women, 13 men, one Republican. Simcha Eichenstein (D – Boro Park / Midwood, Brooklyn) will be the first chasidic Jew to occupy a seat in the lower house. His candidacy was supported by rebbes of the Bobov, Satmar, Ger and Belz sects. Three Jewish members of the Assembly are observant. Aside from Eichenstein, the other two are David Weprin (D – Flushing / Kew Gardens Hills, Queens) and Daniel Rosenthal (D – Flushing / Forest Hills, Queens).

The legislative prizes for committee chairmanships were handed out this month. In the Assembly, of the 22 Jewish legislators the only ones who are not heading up a committee, commission or task force are the six freshmen or sophomore lawmakers who are still getting to know the lay of the land.

In the Senate, of the eight Jewish legislators, the only one without a committee chairmanship is Simcha Felder, mainly because he has not decided which side of the aisle he plans to sit when session convenes next month. Last year Felder, a Democrat, aligned himself with the Republicans and caucused with the majority. Now that the Democrats will be in control of the chamber next year, Felder is waffling as to which conference he will align himself with. As he continues to ponder this dilemma, he has consistently said it depends upon which conference will help his district the most.

Lucky for Felder there are some committee chairmanships that are still open if he decides to caucus with the Democrats. Senate Democrats say they will welcome him with open arms. If Felder joins the Democrats he would be the 40th member of the conference in the 63-member chamber.

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