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Pay Commission Recommends Raises, Reforms for Elected Compensation


bdb mmv budget

The mayor & City Council members (photo: William Alatriste)

 


 

A commission tasked with reviewing the compensation levels of New York City’s elected officials released its report Monday recommending at least a 12 percent salary increase for all elected officials, with a 15 percent increase for the Mayor. Taking multiple factors into account, a 23 percent salary increase was recommended for City Council members, yet that increase should be contingent upon reforms to the position, according to the panel.

The report has been submitted to Mayor Bill de Blasio, who now has 30 days to submit to the City Council his recommendations to approve, disapprove, or modify the findings of the commission. Then, the City Council will vote on any new salaries before they head back to the mayor to be approved into law. The city’s elected officials have not received a pay raise since 2006 - this includes the citywide offices of mayor, public advocate, and comptroller; the five borough presidents, five district attorneys, and 51 City Council members.

“Regardless of the report's recommendation,” Mayor de Blasio said in a statement, “I will not accept a raise this term.” The mayor commended the three-member commission, which he established as called for by law, for its dedication and “extraordinary effort,” and added, “I look forward to carefully reviewing the report, and providing my full response by January 13th, as required.”

The commission recommended to raise the mayor’s salary from $225,000 to $258,750; comptroller from $185,000 to $209,050; public advocate from $165,000 to $184,800; borough presidents from $160,000 to $179,200; and district attorneys from $190,000 to $212,800.

Pay raises were also recommended for City Council members - up to $138,315 from $112,500 - yet the commission’s report declares “our proposed raises for the office of City Council member are conditioned upon, and inseparable from, our proposal to eliminate lulus and to formally classify the job of City Council members as full time.”

“Our recommendations are that 1) Council membership should be classified as a full-time job as it is for all other City elected officials; and 2) Extra pay for doing part of the job (i.e., lulus) should be eliminated,” the commission stated in its report, using “lulus” as parlance for payments for chairing Council committees. “The two recommendations are logically linked. Being a Council member already is, and should be formally recognized as, a full-time job. Because it is a full-time job it is anomalous to pay extra for doing part of the job...Eliminating lulus and formally classifying the job of Council member as full time would both also enhance the reputation and status of the Council.”

Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union and one of a small number of people to testify in front of the pay commission at its two public hearings, said in a statement to Gotham Gazette, "The commission's report is a commendable treatise on city official compensation and we support its recommendation to make any pay raise for the Council tied to the elimination of committee stipends.”

The commission proposed that the “$447,000 now budgeted each year for all lulus” should be folded “evenly into the salary for each non-Speaker seat on the City Council,” which “would result in each non-Speaker seat receiving an additional $8,940 on top of the 12 percent base increase for all elected officials,” and the three percent increase to account for the growth of Council members’ responsibilities.

The commission recommended increasing the salary of the City Council Speaker to $154,375, reflecting the inclusion of the $25,000 lulu the speaker position comes with into the base salary.

In a statement, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said, "The Council will be reviewing the recommendations. We thank the commission for its work."

“Today,” the commission’s report reads, “47 of the 50 Council members are entitled to receive lulus. (Of the 47, 11 decline the payment)...Today, only a few Council members have an outside job such as practicing law. The overwhelming majority already work full time.”

Regarding the recommendation that the position of Council member be classified as full time, Citizens Union said in a statement, “this would not establish a specific cap on outside earned income. This change, however, could have the effect of limiting such outside income.”

Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause/NY, issued a statement praising the commission’s work, saying, “Common Cause/NY supports the Quadrennial Advisory Commission's recommendations to fully professionalize the City Council. Making pay raises a condition of eliminating outside income and most importantly, lulus, is a key measure to make the Council more efficient. With 37 committees and 6 subcommittees nearly everyone in the 51-member body is eligible for some kind of cash bonus, which seems principally designed to boost their base pay.”

The 2015 Quadrennial Advisory Commission was appointed by Mayor de Blasio in a move required by law in September (still, de Blasio took his time doing so, which came on the heels of Mayor Bloomberg refusing to do so, thus the lack of raises since 2006). The three-member body was chaired by Frederick A.O. Schwarz Jr. and included Commissioners Jill Bright and Paul Quintero.

According to the commission, its exhaustive 169-page report took a data-driven approach to its process and issued recommendations that took into account “the current role of each office, relevant changes in elected offices, changes in indices of New York City’s affordability, and the relationship between pay of elected officials and the economic condition of their constituents.”

Though good government groups have expressed approval of the commission’s recommendations, given that the City Council will ultimately vote on these salary increases, an ethical issue remains. Dadey wants to see the Council follow Mayor de Blasio’s lead, saying, “Citizens Union urges the Council to avoid the conflict of interest that exists if they raise their salaries during this current term. We ask the Council to delay all raises until the start of the following term, beginning in 2018.”

“Currently serving council members should not vote themselves a raise. This position is supported by 37 current council members, as well as Mayor Bill de Blasio, according to Citizens Union’s candidate questionnaires,” Citizens Union said in a statement.

Another item Citizens Union is calling for added action on is that the City Council “increase transparency around council members’ earned outside income by requiring that financial disclosure forms be available online for independent analysis.”

Overall, the raises were generally lower than what some city officials had asked for. Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer - the only elected official who appeared to testify in front of the commission (something noted by the commission in its report) - argued for a 15 percent increase for all offices in her testimony. Brewer, a former Council member, also supports eliminating lulus and making salary increases prospective. In November, the city’s five district attorneys sent a letter to the commission requesting a 32 percent salary increase. The Daily News reported that a handful of Council members had discreetly supported a 71 percent increase in November - something Speaker Mark-Viverito called “ridiculous."

Mark-Viverito did submit a letter to the commission saying Council members deserved a raise, though she did not specify an amount.

In the interest of giving greater transparency to the process, the 2015 commission has made the research and public testimony it evaluated to arrive at its recommendations publically available. This included looking at how elected officials are compensated in other big cities.

“Citizens Union will do a full review of the report's recommendations and issue its full analysis when the Council holds its public hearing,” Dadey said, looking ahead to the new year and continuation of the process.

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by Meg O’Connor, Gotham Gazette
@GothamGazette, @MegOConnor13

Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union.

New Transit Program Called ‘Win-Win’ for Many Commuters and Employers


garodnick transit benefits

CM Garodnick, right, with reps from Riders Alliance & DCA (photo via @DanGarodnick) 


Almost half a million New Yorkers will be able to save upwards of $400 a year on their public transportation expenses after a new Commuter Benefits Law goes into effect January 1. The law expands pre-tax transit benefits to more New Yorkers by requiring businesses with 20 or more full-time employees working in New York City to offer the program.

Over “450,000 New Yorkers who do not have access to the tax benefits today because it is not being offered to them” will benefit from the law, City Council Member Dan Garodnick, who sponsored the bill, told Gotham Gazette. Commuters who buy a 30-day Metrocard every month will save about $443 a year, according to a report by the Riders Alliance, a grassroots campaign that helped to get the commuter benefits law passed.

A monthly card currently costs $116 every 30 days for unlimited rides on the city’s subways and buses; totaling about $1400 per year. The transit benefit can be used for additional transportation options, though, it is not limited to the MTA. Eligible commuters will be able to access several options through their employers depending on the transit they use.

The law is roundly viewed “as a win-win for employees and employers,” Julie Menin, Commissioner of New York City’s Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) told Gotham Gazette, as it “allows employers to save on their payroll taxes, and also saves employees a significant amount” by allowing them to use their pre-tax income to pay for transportation expenses. DCA will oversee implementation of the commuter benefits law and is administering a marketing campaign so that workers and employers know about its start date.

Employers can save more than $100 per year per employee in tax liability, so the more employees who sign up for transportation benefits, the more the employer can save, according to DCA.

“We designed this to be applicable only to businesses of a certain size, which are most likely to already have the ability to process employee benefits,” Garodnick said. “We also recognize that when you take pre-tax dollars off of the payroll it reduces a company’s own tax burden. So it becomes a positive for them too. I think it is a very minimal obligation on businesses.”

The law also comes with some safeguards for businesses, including a six-month grace period to implement the law, meaning employers will not be subject to penalties until after July 1, 2016. If employers have not complied with the law by July 1, they have an opportunity to do so within 90 days. After that, DCA will impose penalties for those not complying.

Additionally, if businesses can prove that complying with the Commuter Benefits Law would significantly harm the business’ finances, the business can qualify for a financial hardship exemption, excusing them from complying with the law. In that case, employees of such companies would simply be out of luck when it comes to accessing transit benefits.

The new law will not “cost [businesses] money - it’s just an administrative cost,” Nicole Gelinas, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, told Gotham Gazette. “You have this cost taken out of your paycheck before you pay your taxes, it does save the employees a bit of money and it encourages transit.”

“I think employers have too many mandates,” Gelinas said, “but, considering that larger employers are already paying a benefits administrator, in terms of mandates, this is not that onerous and it saves money…a lot of employers want to offer this anyway because it’s good for morale.”

Gardonick, Menin, and Gelinas all say they have not heard any criticisms of the law, which will make more employers take advantage of an existing federal tax benefit that allows businesses to offer its workers $130 a month of pre-tax income for transportation.

Wil Fisher, a Rider’s Alliance member, told Gotham Gazette his employer already offered the commuter benefits program. “In addition to helping folks, it’s very easy to deal with, the way it’s set up with my employers. You just sign up once and it’s there - it’s like a pay raise I don’t even have to think about.”

“I’m saving about $500 a year, it’s been a very clear help to me,” said Fisher, who joined Garodnick and the Riders Alliance at Union Square on Sunday, Dec. 13 to promote the program. The Riders Alliance set up a big pink calculator in Union Square which passersby could use to estimate their transit savings (a calculator is also available online).

The law allows full-time employees to use pre-tax income to pay for certain commuting expenses up to the maximum amount permitted under federal law. As a part of the massive federal spending bill passed by Congress Friday morning, the maximum amount will be raised to $255 per month, up from $130, meaning employees can spend $255 worth of untaxed earnings to purchase qualified transit expenses, including subways, light rails, trains (including Amtrak), buses (including coach buses and Greyhound), ferries, and vanpools. The benefit will come in various forms depending on the type of transit a commuter uses - some will be able to obtain their monthly MTA passes through the program using pre-tax money, others will receive a card with money on it that can be used to purchase certain transportation.

Commuters who spend $130 or less per month on transportation expenses will get the same amount of savings under the new federal law as they previously did. New Yorkers who take more costly modes of transportation to and from work, such as express buses or commuter rails, will benefit from the federal increase.

As Gelinas indicated, besides saving New Yorkers money, the commuter benefits law has other positive effects. “It promotes mass transit use,” Menin also said, which can cut down on carbon emissions. And, it helps offset MTA fare hikes that hit commuters every two years.

According to a report from the Riders Alliance, about one million people who live and work in New York currently do not have access to transit benefits. The commuter benefits law will allow at least 450,000 more New Yorkers to access these benefits, which an estimated 750,000 transit riders who live and work in New York already have access to.

In that case, because only businesses with 20 or more employees are required to offer the benefits, some half a million New Yorkers will still be left without access to transit benefits after the commuter benefits law goes into effect. However, those employees are still eligible to participate in the commuter benefits program, and can still ask their employer to set up the transit benefit for them.

Organizations with 20 employees or fewer may refuse, as the law does not require them to offer the benefits, in which case those employees would not have access to the same transit savings as others.

Smaller businesses may feel that administering the benefits program is too costly, whereas larger businesses typically already have a benefits administrator. Smaller businesses could pay a third-party vendor to administer the program, entities which charge administrative fees that can range from $4-6 per participant per month, according to DCA.

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by Meg O’Connor, Gotham Gazette
@GothamGazette, @MegOConnor13

The Week That Was in New York Politics, Dec 14-18


week in review bus readers

photo: Stanley Kubrick via Museum of the City of New York


Gotham Gazette's Week in Review, Friday December 18

PHOTOS OF THE WEEK: Mayor de Blasio and NYPD Commissioner Bratton, via WNYC's Brigid Bergin; Members of de Blasio's new "HomeStat" team, via @BilldeBlasio

BdB Bratton via Brigid Bergin

BdB Home Stat team ABNY

TOP FIVE STORIES OF THE WEEK:

1. Home-Stat: On Thursday, Mayor de Blasio unveiled a major new plan to track and combat street homelessness. The new program, called Home-Stat, will involve tracking the street homeless population in real time, canvassing Manhattan streets daily, expansion of a police unit dedicated to homelessness, and individualized case management for each person living on the streets.

2. 421-A Negotiations Reach Impasse: Discussions between labor leaders and real estate developers to extend the controversial 421-a tax abatement program meant to encourage affordable housing are at an impasse, with sources characterizing the discussions as “dead.” In June, State lawmakers decided to leave the future of the expiring program contingent upon an agreement between labor and business, yet there has been no movement in the negotiations for some time. [Read: Negotiations to Extend Important Affordable Housing Tax Break Said to Reach Impasse]

3. City Homelessness Chief Steps Down: Gilbert Taylor, New York City's top official in charge of homeless services, resigned on Tuesday following which Mayor de Blasio announced a comprehensive review of all homeless services agencies and programs. He is the second official overseeing homelessness programming to leave this year, after Deputy Mayor Lilliam Barrios-Paoli, who oversaw homelessness and health care, resigned this summer. HRA Commissioner Steven Banks is currently running HRA and DHS while working with First Deputy Mayor Tony Shorris.

4. Cuomo FOIL Saga: Following the conviction of former State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and his son Adam last Friday, Governor Cuomo called for the state legislature to push ahead on ethics reform. But just hours later, he vetoed two bills which would have sped up Freedom of Information Law responses from the Executive branch and required the state to pay court costs incurred by FOIL users whose requests a judge finds have been improperly denied. After pressure from good government groups, the governor did quickly issue an executive order on Saturday, then held a FOIL meeting with those groups on Wednesday.[Read: Vetoing FOIL Bills, Cuomo Points Finger at Legislature, Issues Executive Order & Cuomo's FOIL Order Has More Limited Scope Than Vetoed Bills]

5. Ethics After Skelos, Silver: The convictions of two legislative leaders on federal corruption charges within a span of 13 days have spurred renewed calls for public ethics reforms. U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said on Monday the convictions should result in widespread reforms, and that his office still has “lots of investigations open.” A new Siena poll finds a strong majority of New Yorkers want ethics laws passed to clean up corruption in the state government. [Read: Assemblymember Blake Decides Against New Consulting Job & Skelos Conviction Greeted With Calls for Immediate Action on Reform]

THIS WEEK'S NUMBERS:

  • 3 troubled public schools in Brooklyn will be closed by the city at the end of the school year, the New York Times reports.
  • 92% of city teachers earned high marks in the newest round of evaluations, Chalkbeat reports.
  • $2.4 billion increase in State school aid requested by the state Board of Regents, the Times Union reports.
  • $20,200 in campaign contributions to Mayor de Blasio from Glenwood Management, a real-estate firm involved in the corruption scandals involving two disgraced Albany legislative leaders, will be returned, the New York Post reports.

THE GLORY AND THE GOAT:

It was a good week for New York’s state judges, as a panel tasked with examining compensation levels approved a set of recommended pay raises that will boost their salaries for the first time in years.

It was a bad week for NYCHA leaders, as a series of revelations regarding the housing authority’s struggles were revealed, including a report showing that NYCHA had failed to screen those convicted of violent crimes, that there is at least one sex offender in one out of every four developments, a report from Comptroller Scott Stringer alleging that another natural disaster like Superstorm Sandy could leave nearly half a million people living in NYCHA developments at “extreme risk,” and a federal judge agreeing to appoint a special monitor to ensure that NYCHA finally deals with the toxic mold problem in its aging apartments.

THE FLASH:

  • Around this time 75 years ago, on December 14, 1940, Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia marked the opening of the Sixth Avenue subway during a ceremony at the 34th street station. The new line included F, B, and D trains and ran from West 4th Street to 50th Street.
  • Around this time 144 years ago, on December 15, 1871, political boss William Tweed was indicted on more than 100 counts of fraud and misdemeanor charges for pocketing millions in taxpayer money.
  • Around this time 13 years ago, on December 16, 2002, a major transit strike was avoided after the Transport Workers Union and the MTA spent days negotiating to reach a deal to keep the city’s transit system running.
  • Around this time 115 years ago, on December 17, 1900, the immigration processing center on Ellis Island opened. In the decades that followed, millions of new Americans were processed at the center before beginning their new lives in America.

GOTHAM GAZETTE HIGHLIGHTS OF THE WEEK:

Negotiations to Extend Important Affordable Housing Tax Break Said to Reach Impasse, by David King

Assemblymember Blake Decides Against New Consulting Job, by Ben Max

Assembly Reform Group Will Miss Own Deadline, by David King

Reforms to City Campaign Finance System Advance Ahead of 2017 Election Cycle, by Samar Khurshid

Vetoing FOIL Bills, Cuomo Points Finger at Legislature, Issues Executive Order, by David King

Cuomo's FOIL Order Has More Limited Scope Than Vetoed Bills, by David King

Hope Knight to Join City Planning Commission at 'Exciting Time' by Ben Max

A Plan for More Senior Affordable Housing, by Bobbie Sackman (opinion)

New York Leads on Climate Action, by Heather Leibowitz (opinion)

MORE FOR THE WEEKEND:

On Friday, Mayor de Blasio appeared on the Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC to talk about the city's new initiative for combating homelessness, Home-Stat: Homeless Outreach & Mobile Engagement Street Action Teams; and his first two years in office in sum.

On Monday, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara appeared on the Brian Lehrer Show to discuss his office’s work prosecuting former State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, Skelos’ son and former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

In State of Politics, Zack Fink details former State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos' history of supporting, then reneging support for campaign finance reform, and discusses the potential for reforms in the upcoming legislative session. 

***
NOTE TO READERS: we hope you enjoy this new Gotham Gazette weekly feature - please share it if you do; on Twitter, use our handle @GothamGazette.

If you have feedback on this feature for us, you can email editor Ben Max: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Watch Sunday evening for our latest Week Ahead in New York Politics, which gives you a preview of key issues and events to be aware of for the week about to start. In the meantime, catch up on the latest original reporting from Gotham Gazette here. And have a great weekend!

***
by Meg O'Connor and Ben Max



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