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Don’t the NYS Legislators deserve a salary raise? Yes, I am aware that our state has employed tax caps, decreased budgets and initiated massive layoffs. But, give our Assemblyman and Senators a break. They have not received a raise since 1999 and claim that it is their time.
I agree with them. But before administering a raise, let’s hold them accountable to the same standards required of many other government workers. We could start with a simple item, attendance. It surely is reasonable to expect the Assembly and Senate members to actually report to work every day. Yet a recent report disclosed many missing a significant number of sessions without financial penalty. Addressing this problem, each legislator should be assigned 6 sick days and one personal day per year. This seems more than fair for a job that generally meets from January through mid June. Those requiring additional time for business, family or political reasons (e.g. Congressional campaign) would request an unpaid leave of absence.
Now, let’s scrutinize actual job accountability. How many bills did each legislator initiate? How many actually passed both houses with final gubernatorial approval? “Unfair!” some lawmakers might exclaim. Converting a bill into law involves too many factors outside of one person’s prevue. But lawmaking is an important test of leadership ability. Is legislator accountability about achievement or merely effort?
Following Tip O’Neil’s adage “All politics is local politics,” let’s observe achievement on the neighborhood front. Peeking at the district’s infrastructure, we can inspect buildings, roads, sidewalks, bridges, sewers and parks. Have our representatives succeeded in keeping property values high and our quality of life secure?
But must we must go even further. How have elected officials promoted and improved local school achievement, health care services, fire and police department statistics, environmental/green initiatives and arts and recreational opportunities? There surely are many other important items for review. (Perhaps our Governor will appoint another Task Force?) But I digress….
Let’s establish a Legislative Assessment Plan summarizing each legislator’s work with an assigned report card grade of A through F. No better yet, let’s rate them Highly Effective, Effective, Developing or Ineffective. These very same folks have already legislated these ratings for Teachers and Principals. Perhaps we could use this evaluation toward assigning pay raises.
But some will question offering any additional compensation to the Legislature? Naysayers might argue that the modest $79,000 base salary is sweetened with per-diem stipends and leadership bonuses. Others would cite the significant additional wages concurrently earned by many as lawyers or business entrepreneurs within the private sector. And, it might be shocking to know that only two states -- California and Pennsylvania -- pay representatives higher wages than in New York.
Despite all, I believe that highly effective legislators do deserve to earn more money. But let’s not dole out our hard earned cash to everyone in Albany. Only those demonstrating exemplary work should garner these increases. A Legislative report card would surely be a valuable resource toward determining those who have earned a raise, deserve a freeze or even warrant being elected out of office. Isn’t it worth a try? In these challenging economic times, it is only fair.