N.Y. lawmakers vote to make themselves best paid in the nation

Lawmakers would earn $142,000 a year — but the bill caps their outside pay.
Senate Majority Leader, Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers, talks to reporters about a legislative pay raise vote during a news conference at the state Capitol Thursday, Dec. 22, 2022, in Albany, N.Y. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink).

In an early Christmas gift, New York State lawmakers voted to give themselves a pay raise that will make them the highest paid state legislators in the country.

The Democratic legislature, meeting in a lame duck special session Thursday, voted to approve a $32,000 pay increase that will push lawmaker salaries to $142,000 – topping the $122,000 that California legislators make.

The vote was 81 to 52 in the Assembly and 33 to 23 in the Senate. No Republicans voted in favor of the measure.

But just as the measure giveths, it also takeths away by limiting the amount of outside income a lawmaker can accept. The bill imposes a $35,000 limit on outside pay beginning in 2025, with some exceptions. Backers framed the change as an anti-corruption measure, as well as a way to fairly pay legislators for what is essentially full-time work.

“Legislators work very hard,” Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D) told reporters after the vote. “There’s no compensation you can give for people to be away from their families.”

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins acknowledged the awkwardness of raising one’s own salary. 

“We’re in a difficult situation,” Stewart-Cousins said. “I don’t know when people would ever feel comfortable about what we do as it relates to our compensation, but we’re the only ones who can do it and here we are.”

In a fiery debate before the vote, minority Republicans blasted the pay raise.

“None of you are going broke, but the people that you represent are,” said Assemblymember Mark Walczyk (R). “You should be ashamed that you would call a special session to bring a bill like this.”

Assemblymember Michael Fitzpatrick (R) called the increase a “pension sweetener.”

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle also raised concerns about the implications of the pay cap, including whether it would force members to sell their businesses if they want to continue to serve in the legislature.

Across the nation, state legislative pay ranges wildly, from nothing except for per diem in New Mexico to six-figure salaries in New York, California and, as of this earlier this month, Pennsylvania.

The average base salary for state lawmakers in 2021 was $39,216, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The vote in New York comes after state lawmakers received a 38% pay raise in 2019 – their first increase since 1998.

That increase, which was approved by an outside commission, also included a restriction on income from other jobs. A judge later overturned the pay cap. 

The new legislator salary is scheduled to take effect on January 1, but first requires the signature of Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) who said recently she supports the increase.

“I believe they deserve a pay raise,” Hochul said when asked earlier this month. “They work extraordinarily hard. It’s a year-round job.”