2008-01-31 / This Week's Attitude

This Week's Attitude

State Of The State Stinks- Unless You're A Legislator
By Neil S. Friedman

By Neil S. Friedman

Following a tumultuous first year as governor of New York, Eliot Spitzer essentially has only one option: to turn around his misfortunes in 2008 and jack up a favorable rating that plunged under 30 percent several months ago, though it slightly rebounded to 35 percent in one poll this week.

The meager five percent increase he proposed in his latest budget pitch suggests that Spitzer believes some belt-tightening measures are necessary this year. However, some voters may wonder how serious he really is since it includes a proposal to give state legislators a hefty 21 percent pay raise. For a bunch of part-time politicians, who work fewer days (a mere 67 scheduled in 2007) each year than public school teachers and earn a base salary of $79,500, in addition to reimbursements for travel expenses to and from Albany back to their districts and stipends for committee assignment, they got a heckuva lotta nerve!

According to The New York Times, New York's elected representatives salary level ranks third among state legislators. But if anyone ranked them according to job performance, it's doubtful they'd place in the top 25.

The key argument for a pay hike is that the salaries for the state's 212 senators and assembly members haven't increased in eight years. Those who oppose it want to know what have they done to deserve a raise? A pay boost plan seems to inevitably crop up - like clockwork - between state elections. (Don't these politicians have the cajones to bring it up in an election year?)

While some legislators spend more time on the job than others, many have rewarding law practices or some other worthwhile professions that tend to take precedence - except when they're in session - over their responsibilities to constituents.

With the assortment of controversies Spitzer encountered last year, not long after his landslide victory with 69 percent of the votes that eroded by year's end, giving legislators raises seems like nothing more than a blatant effort to endear himself to guarantee desperately needed support for the remainder of his term.

The stock defense for salary increases for public servants, is that to get the best and the brightest (that's an exaggeration when it comes to Albany pols) assembly members and senators, they should be paid wages proportionate to the job and commitment. But, most legislators in Albany seem to set mediocrity as the bar to which they never exceed.

With city schools now budgeted to get $100 million less than they anticipated a few weeks ago, wouldn't it be a noble gesture for legislators to forego the projected salary bump so those funds can go to schools to benefit the state's children?

Silly me, I fantasize too much. The only way that's ever gonna happen would be if Hell freezes over. But, as long as intense fires burn down there , political altruism up in Albany is as rare as a blue moon.

A group of about six Republican and Democratic legislators from the western part of the state recently said they opposed a pay raise because "it sends the wrong message at the wrong time."

There's a bunch of politicians who deserve a tip of the hat for their gesture.

If legislators feel they truly deserve a pay raise, let them postpone it for the time being and prove they're worth it before the next election. Then, if it's still practical, put a proposition on the ballot and let the state's voters decide if elected state representatives in Albany are worthy of higher salaries. After all, we put 'em in office, so we should determine if these secretive, hardly-working legislators get a wage hike with taxpayer dollars. If the majority approves the proposition - and only then - should the raise be granted in the succeeding legislative session.

Until then I think they can manage on the current wages they're paid for a part-time gig. Most New Yorkers can only hope to see that salary level in their lifetimes.

To paraphrase the obscene tirade the governor uttered several months ago when he told the Assembly minority leader, "I'm a (expletive) steamroller and I'll roll over you and anybody else," it now appears Eliot Spitzer has no choice but to roll over and boost the salaries of legislators to recoup the reputation he had twelve months ago.

Times are tough with the prospect of a recession looming and the fiscal state of the State ain't that great. Therefore, despite the governor's goodwill gesture to shore up political support, it would be more practical if our state legislators bite the bullet and make do - like the rest of us - until they merit an increase and the economy stabilizes.

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