Gotham Gazette Gotham Gazette is an online publication covering New York policy and politics as well as news on public safety, transportation, education, finance and more. http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/pay-raises 2017-10-23T20:33:44+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com City Council Raises Provoke Questions About Staff Pay 2016-03-08T00:01:45+00:00 2016-03-08T00:01:45+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6211:city-council-pay-raises-provoke-questions-about-staff-pay Carmen Russo <p dir="ltr"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/18903409349_25ae288395_z.jpg" alt="city council members budget announcement" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p dir="ltr">Members of the City Council (photo: William Alatriste)&nbsp;</p> <hr /> <p>As New York City Council members voted on a package of legislation that increased their salaries from $112,500 to $148,500, aides to two Council members stood silently in the balcony of the Council chambers, wearing white t-shirts that read, “Paycheck to Paycheck, Pay Raises for All.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The $36,000 salary bump for Council members is about the same amount of money that many of their staff members make in a year. These are aides filling roles such as communications director, scheduler, and community liaison. Chiefs of staff usually make quite a bit more. At a hearing on the bills two days before the vote, several Council members spoke in support of also providing pay raises to their staff members. The silent demonstration by staffers from the offices of Council Members Inez Barron and Rosie Mendez was itself a coordinated effort done with the support of Barron and Mendez.</p> <p dir="ltr">City Council members set the salaries of their staff members and decide how many aides to employ - the average staff size is about seven. The amount Council members choose to spend on salaries comes out of their office budgets, which are set by the Council Speaker’s office.</p> <p dir="ltr">City Council members say that a push to increase member budgets was initiated when it became clear that Council members themselves would be getting raises. In early February, at about the same time the Council was voting through raises for all city elected officials, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito provided Council members with about $29,500 each in additional funding for their offices.</p> <p dir="ltr">“In my tenure, I have increased the budgets of Council members, and I plan to do that again,” Mark-Viverito said at a Feb. 18 event organized by the Center for Community and Ethnic Media at CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.</p> <p dir="ltr">According to information obtained by Gotham Gazette through a Freedom of Information Act request, most Council members are now receiving a total of $409,000 to run their offices in the current fiscal year (FY 2016).</p> <p dir="ltr">That $409,000 is used by Council members to pay the rent for their district offices, the salaries of their staff members, and OTPS, or other than personal services, which include supplies, equipment, contractual services, and other operating expenses. The recent $29,500 bump will allow Council members to give raises to their staffers, if they so choose.</p> <p dir="ltr">Even with an increase to staff salaries, aides and Council members alike criticize current dynamics, which, they say, leave staff members significantly underpaid and overworked. Members argue that they are forced into a no-win decision whether to hire fewer staff members or pay more aides less and decry a situation where they lose staff to higher-paying government jobs at city agencies. They also say that current pay structures diminish the professionalism of Council staff and some call for more drastic increases to their office budgets.</p> <p dir="ltr">“The mayor’s office and city agencies can easily poach employees from the City Council, draining it of institutional memory,” said Council Member Ritchie Torres, himself a former Council aide. “You have City Council staff who are performing professional functions on complex matters of budgeting, land use, and policy, without professional salaries. You have City Council staffers who do overtime without receiving overtime. And if you were to divide the salary of a dedicated Council staffer by the number of hours worked, the City Council may very well be guilty of wage slavery.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Council Member Helen Rosenthal told Gotham Gazette that “as soon as the Mayor said he was calling for the quadrennial [compensation] commission and they started to meet…one of the things I started pressing for in the Council among ourselves as a body is if we’re going to be put in a situation where we’re giving ourselves raises, I’m not sure I can do that without giving my staff a raise.”</p> <p dir="ltr">As mandated by law, Mayor de Blasio appointed an independent commission to review the salaries of elected officials last September, setting off a process that concluded on Feb. 19, when the mayor signed into law a package of legislation raising the salaries of all New York City elected officials. This includes the mayor, comptroller, public advocate, five borough presidents, five district attorneys, and 51 City Council members.</p> <p dir="ltr">The City Council held a <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6144-questions-remain-as-city-council-moves-ahead-with-pay-raises-reforms" target="_blank">hearing</a> on the legislation Feb. 3, and approved the package of raises and reforms on Feb. 5.</p> <p dir="ltr">Rosenthal and other Council members expressed concern about the salaries of their aides to Mark-Viverito, and say that the speaker has responded to those concerns. “Members have been speaking on behalf of our staff,” said Council Member Jumaane Williams, “this is something that I’ve brought up before, and I’m very happy that the speaker is receptive.”</p> <p dir="ltr">“The speaker is adding money - the same amount of money to each of our lump sums [office budgets],” Rosenthal said. “I will be allocating that for staff salaries, and I’m relieved and grateful for that.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The budget increase, like Council members’ salary increase, is retroactive to Jan. 1, making it part of the current fiscal year 2016 budget. Council members and Mark-Viverito may look to include another increase during fiscal year 2017. The FY17 city budget is being negotiated and will go into effect July 1.</p> <p dir="ltr">Equalizing most members’ office budgets is a part of Mark-Viverito’s efforts to reform and democratize the City Council. In fiscal year 2015, about half of the City Council received $382,000 for their office budgets, while other members received $377,000. Council sources say this is another example of Mark-Viverito moving away from the practices of her predecessors, who used funding levels - both for office budgets and discretionary money to award nonprofits - to exercise control, reward allies, and punish those who were seen as out of step.</p> <p dir="ltr">Under Mark-Viverito, five Council members have received more than others for their office budgets. For the current fiscal year, chair of the finance committee Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, chair of the land use committee David Greenfield, and Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer all receive about $70,000 more to run their offices, with an annual budget of $479,000. Each of these three is provided increased funding based on heightened levels of responsibility.</p> <p dir="ltr">Council Member Donovan Richards, whose district includes the Rockaways and requires him to run two offices, receives $454,000 this year. Council Member Alan Maisel has the highest office budget of any Council member - $489,000 annually - $80,000 above the majority of Council members.</p> <p dir="ltr">When asked why his office budget was so much higher than that of the average Council member, Maisel told Gotham Gazette, “I have no idea. I don’t know what the reason is - maybe something built in from a previous Council member? I don’t know.” Maisel seemed surprised to hear he receives a larger office budget than other Council members, and asked what others receive.</p> <p dir="ltr">The speaker’s office was also unable to specify why Maisel receives a significantly higher office budget, saying only that the speaker retains the discretion to provide additional resources in limited circumstances - such a leadership positions, committee responsibilities, and hardship. Maisel succeeded Lew Fidler on the Council starting in 2014, the same year Mark-Viverito became speaker.</p> <p dir="ltr">In a statement, Council Member Richards explained to Gotham Gazette that he receives more for his office budget because “In District 31, we cover a large diverse constituency that has vastly different needs, from Southeast Queens, all the way to the Rockaways. The geographical distance between the two areas requires two district offices to handle the constituent caseload and day-to-day services more efficiently, which also requires additional staff to meet the needs of residents throughout the district.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Simply increasing Council members’ office budgets does not guarantee their staff members will receive a raise. Some Council members may choose to distribute the added $27,000-$32,000 in a way that gives each of their aides a pay raise, others may use the money to hire one additional staff member. Some Council members may not even use the added funds for salaries, but rather, to pay rent for a better office space or an additional office, or use it for OTPS.</p> <p dir="ltr">The $409,000 most Council members currently receive to run their offices creates a certain sense of equity, but does not take into account differing needs. Office rent may be higher on the Upper East Side than on Staten Island, for example, while Council members serving poverty-stricken districts may have cause to provide more robust constituent services than others, requiring them to hire additional constituent liaisons. Some Council members may need to offer different language services to their constituents.</p> <p dir="ltr">“My rent, I’m pretty sure, is twice as high as some of the members in the Bronx,” Rosenthal, who represents the Upper West Side, said. “And certainly, my staff, who mainly live in the district, probably need a little bit higher salaries to be able to stay, as opposed to someone in the Bronx. It’s a reality that I find challenging.”</p> <p dir="ltr">“Some of us have more demands on our staff than others, and there’s no recognition of that,” said Council Member Barron, who represents Brownsville and other parts of Brooklyn. Though office rent in poorer districts may be more affordable, Barron says, Council members representing “the Upper East Side, Upper West Side don’t have the same kinds of problems in terms of dealing with their constituents, agencies, and the problems that some of us in the more impoverished neighborhoods have. I think there should be some consideration of that.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Council Member Williams, who represents Flatbush and other parts of Brooklyn, also points to differences in demands on district offices. “Some districts have a high, high volume of constituent services, some districts have a lower amount, there are some districts that focus more on legislation,” Williams explained. “The needs of every district’s very different, you may have a constituent liaison that sees one person every day, and another that sees one person every hour.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Council members may hire as many staffers as they see fit, and the number of people they employ as well as the positions they name largely depend on the differing needs of their districts. Staff listings indicate Council members employ an average of seven aides, with some employing as many as nine or as few as four.</p> <p dir="ltr">Council members must choose between hiring a smaller staff and paying each aide more, or hiring more and paying each less.</p> <p dir="ltr">“It’s very unfortunate,” Council Member Antonio Reynoso, a former Council staffer himself, told Gotham Gazette. “Either we have three staff members and pay them a good amount for what they’re worth, or we have eight members and everyone’s taking a hit.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Council Member Torres, who represents parts of the Bronx, told Gotham Gazette he is currently experiencing some staff turnover, which he is “using to prioritize pay increases for existing staff. Even though there’s a real need for added capacity and more staffers.” Torres says he is choosing not to hire additional staff “because I cannot allow my staffers to earn what is an abysmal wage. It’s a death wage in some senses.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Staffers often end up filling numerous roles, with aides in many offices serving as both legislative director and budget director, legislative liaison and scheduler, or director of communications and legislation. Council aides are often in their twenties, working long hours, and eyeing other, higher-paying positions in government.</p> <p dir="ltr">Salaries for the same position can vary widely across offices, with Council members’ chiefs of staff - the highest paid staff position - receiving between $37,700 and $92,000 annually, according to 2015<a href="http://seethroughny.net/payrolls/city-of-new-york" target="_blank"> payroll records</a> compiled by The Empire Center. Most communications directors received between $28,700 and $50,000.</p> <p dir="ltr">During the <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6144-questions-remain-as-city-council-moves-ahead-with-pay-raises-reforms" target="_blank">only hearing</a> on the package of bills that raised the salaries of Council members by $36,000 and modified rules by which members earn additional money, Council members defended the raise by pointing out how hard they work, that their responsibilities have increased over the years, and that they work long hours. The workload of Council aides has increased as well.</p> <p dir="ltr">“We work more than 60 hours a week,” Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez said during the Feb. 3 hearing. “For me, this is a big compromise that we’re doing…our salaries should be $175,000,” added Rodriguez, who<a href="http://seethroughny.net/payrolls/city-of-new-york" target="_blank"> in 2015 paid</a> his seven staffers at least $15,038 and at most $56,231.</p> <p dir="ltr">In December, Speaker Mark-Viverito submitted a<a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/quadrennial/downloads/pdf/testimony/submission_and_attachments__speaker_melissa_markviverito.pdf" target="_blank"> letter</a> to the quadrennial commission describing the Council’s workload and reasons why Council members deserve a raise. “Each Member represents on average about 160,000 New Yorkers,” Mark-Viverito wrote, and “the time commitment for Council Members is considerable and most describe their jobs as ‘24/7,’ requiring them to be available around-the-clock.”</p> <p dir="ltr">“Council Members have already made 105% more bill and resolution drafting requests, introduced 41% more bills and enacted 32% more Local Laws than through the same time period in the immediately preceding session,” Mark-Viverito added.</p> <p dir="ltr">Given Council members’ rationale that their workload has increased and they therefore deserve a raise, Joy Simmons, chief of staff for Council Member Barron, told Gotham Gazette she believes “staff members should also get raises, because the burden of that work falls on our shoulders…there’s many staff members living paycheck to paycheck."</p> <p dir="ltr">“Many Council members work ’24/7,’ but their staffs do as well,” said Simmons, who was one of the staff members to stand in silent protest at the Feb. 5 vote - she also testified before the Council on Feb. 3. “We’re working way more than 40 hours and not getting overtime, and there’s no provision to make more, and if you don’t work those hours they’ll find someone else who will.”</p> <p dir="ltr">“My staff definitely works more than 40 hours a week,” Reynoso said. “My staff works just as hard, if not harder, than me, they’re out there every day, in meetings, in the nighttime. They represent me, so when I can’t go somewhere, they’re out there.”</p> <p dir="ltr">“There are staffers that are coming in the office at 9 a.m. and are done at their community board meetings at 9 p.m.,” Torres said, “and you’re receiving $25,000, $30,000, $35,000 a year? That’s absurd. That’s unlivable.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Low wages aren’t only hurting staffers - they diminish the professionalism of the City Council itself, Council members argue, and lead to a high turnover rate. Torres, Williams, and Reynoso believe Council members are given too few resources to adequately compensate their aides, causing Council members’ offices to become “a training ground for other agencies or other companies, because they see the work that the staff does, and they come and get them and we just can’t compete because there’s not enough money,” in Williams’ words.</p> <p dir="ltr">Reynoso says staffers often leave for similar positions in the mayor’s office that pay $60,000 a year - nearing the high end of what Council aides are paid. Other opportunities in city government abound. The Department of Education has six employees who do communications work - the highest paid among them (senior advisor to Chancellor Fariña for communications and external affairs) earned $177,235 in 2015. The DOE’s top press secretary earned $114,987, while the three deputy press secretaries made $69,065, $44,603, and $25,992, according to Empire Center <a href="http://seethroughny.net/payrolls">payroll records</a>. A DOE assistant press secretary made $54,685</p> <p dir="ltr">“We’re like the minor leagues,” Reynoso said. “Many of our staff members get taken away from us to work in jobs that pay substantially more, we can’t compete. So we end up doing all the training, all the development, and then after a year, they’re gone…It takes away from the professionalism that we have at our office.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Reynoso said that for certain types of work Council members do, such as land use, it would be ideal to hire a planner with a Master’s degree, yet because Council members are unable to offer them a competitive wage, they end up hiring someone who may not be a planner, but knows about planning, meaning the city ends up without “the top professionals to do these things that are an important part of our job.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Though the added funds to Council members’ office budgets may “help us get closer to fairness,” Reynoso says, “it’s still nothing that can help us get competitive with the mayor’s office. Outside of doubling our staff budgets, it’s not going to be competitive.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Ultimately, it is up to the Council speaker to set the office budgets for members. Yet, some question why Council members don’t push more aggressively for a significant increase to their office budgets to be included in the city budget.</p> <p dir="ltr">“These Council members have supported other workers out there looking for pay increases and looking for protections within their industries - you know, airport workers, retail workers,” Ndigo Washington, legislative director for Council Member Barron, told Gotham Gazette, expressing dismay at the fact that Council members will so readily push for higher wages for other workers, but leave their own staffers poorly compensated.</p> <p dir="ltr">More could be done to address the wage situation beyond simply increasing Council members’ office budgets. There should be standards, some Council members argue, for a minimum salary for a chief of staff, legislative director, budget director, deputy chief of staff, and all typical staff positions.</p> <p dir="ltr">“I think there’s an argument for a minimum,” Torres said, which he said would likely require a change to Council rules.</p> <p dir="ltr">A minimum standard could help, Council members and staffers say, though setting a uniform pay rate for certain positions is something to “be wary of,” according to Williams, given the vastly different roles and responsibilities of staffers from office to office.</p> <p dir="ltr">In the state Assembly, members’ office rents and utilities are paid through the central office. If the City Council were to alter the rules to allow rent to be paid centrally, it could free up money in Council members’ office budgets to be used to better compensate staffers, assuming significant deductions in those budgets would not be made.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Maybe the rent could be paid centrally,” Torres said, “so that it has no impact on the individual budgets of members.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Another issue raised by Washington and Simmons, both aides to Council Member Barron, is ensuring raises for staffers. “We’ve been told in the past that we might get a cost of living increase,” Washington said, “but we don’t know.” There is also the lack of job security or protection, as staffers are considered at-will employees. Council sources say they was a cost of living increase in 2015, one that applied to Council employees (working on the Council central staff and for members) with qualifying longevity.</p> <p dir="ltr">“What you have is a tale of two cities at City Hall,” said Council Member Torres. “You have egregious pay disparities in pay between the Mayor’s Office and the City Council...A poorly resourced City Council with poorly paid staff cannot possibly live up to its charter-mandated roles as a co-equal branch of government.”</p> <p dir="ltr">“It’s a professional position and we’re reducing it to the status of a glorified internship,” he added, of aide roles.</p> <p dir="ltr">Simmons says that she and her colleagues hope that the mayor and the Council will “pass a budget that includes raises for members of Council staff, and even central staff.”</p> <p dir="ltr">

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by Meg O'Connor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p dir="ltr"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/18903409349_25ae288395_z.jpg" alt="city council members budget announcement" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p dir="ltr">Members of the City Council (photo: William Alatriste)&nbsp;</p> <hr /> <p>As New York City Council members voted on a package of legislation that increased their salaries from $112,500 to $148,500, aides to two Council members stood silently in the balcony of the Council chambers, wearing white t-shirts that read, “Paycheck to Paycheck, Pay Raises for All.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The $36,000 salary bump for Council members is about the same amount of money that many of their staff members make in a year. These are aides filling roles such as communications director, scheduler, and community liaison. Chiefs of staff usually make quite a bit more. At a hearing on the bills two days before the vote, several Council members spoke in support of also providing pay raises to their staff members. The silent demonstration by staffers from the offices of Council Members Inez Barron and Rosie Mendez was itself a coordinated effort done with the support of Barron and Mendez.</p> <p dir="ltr">City Council members set the salaries of their staff members and decide how many aides to employ - the average staff size is about seven. The amount Council members choose to spend on salaries comes out of their office budgets, which are set by the Council Speaker’s office.</p> <p dir="ltr">City Council members say that a push to increase member budgets was initiated when it became clear that Council members themselves would be getting raises. In early February, at about the same time the Council was voting through raises for all city elected officials, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito provided Council members with about $29,500 each in additional funding for their offices.</p> <p dir="ltr">“In my tenure, I have increased the budgets of Council members, and I plan to do that again,” Mark-Viverito said at a Feb. 18 event organized by the Center for Community and Ethnic Media at CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.</p> <p dir="ltr">According to information obtained by Gotham Gazette through a Freedom of Information Act request, most Council members are now receiving a total of $409,000 to run their offices in the current fiscal year (FY 2016).</p> <p dir="ltr">That $409,000 is used by Council members to pay the rent for their district offices, the salaries of their staff members, and OTPS, or other than personal services, which include supplies, equipment, contractual services, and other operating expenses. The recent $29,500 bump will allow Council members to give raises to their staffers, if they so choose.</p> <p dir="ltr">Even with an increase to staff salaries, aides and Council members alike criticize current dynamics, which, they say, leave staff members significantly underpaid and overworked. Members argue that they are forced into a no-win decision whether to hire fewer staff members or pay more aides less and decry a situation where they lose staff to higher-paying government jobs at city agencies. They also say that current pay structures diminish the professionalism of Council staff and some call for more drastic increases to their office budgets.</p> <p dir="ltr">“The mayor’s office and city agencies can easily poach employees from the City Council, draining it of institutional memory,” said Council Member Ritchie Torres, himself a former Council aide. “You have City Council staff who are performing professional functions on complex matters of budgeting, land use, and policy, without professional salaries. You have City Council staffers who do overtime without receiving overtime. And if you were to divide the salary of a dedicated Council staffer by the number of hours worked, the City Council may very well be guilty of wage slavery.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Council Member Helen Rosenthal told Gotham Gazette that “as soon as the Mayor said he was calling for the quadrennial [compensation] commission and they started to meet…one of the things I started pressing for in the Council among ourselves as a body is if we’re going to be put in a situation where we’re giving ourselves raises, I’m not sure I can do that without giving my staff a raise.”</p> <p dir="ltr">As mandated by law, Mayor de Blasio appointed an independent commission to review the salaries of elected officials last September, setting off a process that concluded on Feb. 19, when the mayor signed into law a package of legislation raising the salaries of all New York City elected officials. This includes the mayor, comptroller, public advocate, five borough presidents, five district attorneys, and 51 City Council members.</p> <p dir="ltr">The City Council held a <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6144-questions-remain-as-city-council-moves-ahead-with-pay-raises-reforms" target="_blank">hearing</a> on the legislation Feb. 3, and approved the package of raises and reforms on Feb. 5.</p> <p dir="ltr">Rosenthal and other Council members expressed concern about the salaries of their aides to Mark-Viverito, and say that the speaker has responded to those concerns. “Members have been speaking on behalf of our staff,” said Council Member Jumaane Williams, “this is something that I’ve brought up before, and I’m very happy that the speaker is receptive.”</p> <p dir="ltr">“The speaker is adding money - the same amount of money to each of our lump sums [office budgets],” Rosenthal said. “I will be allocating that for staff salaries, and I’m relieved and grateful for that.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The budget increase, like Council members’ salary increase, is retroactive to Jan. 1, making it part of the current fiscal year 2016 budget. Council members and Mark-Viverito may look to include another increase during fiscal year 2017. The FY17 city budget is being negotiated and will go into effect July 1.</p> <p dir="ltr">Equalizing most members’ office budgets is a part of Mark-Viverito’s efforts to reform and democratize the City Council. In fiscal year 2015, about half of the City Council received $382,000 for their office budgets, while other members received $377,000. Council sources say this is another example of Mark-Viverito moving away from the practices of her predecessors, who used funding levels - both for office budgets and discretionary money to award nonprofits - to exercise control, reward allies, and punish those who were seen as out of step.</p> <p dir="ltr">Under Mark-Viverito, five Council members have received more than others for their office budgets. For the current fiscal year, chair of the finance committee Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, chair of the land use committee David Greenfield, and Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer all receive about $70,000 more to run their offices, with an annual budget of $479,000. Each of these three is provided increased funding based on heightened levels of responsibility.</p> <p dir="ltr">Council Member Donovan Richards, whose district includes the Rockaways and requires him to run two offices, receives $454,000 this year. Council Member Alan Maisel has the highest office budget of any Council member - $489,000 annually - $80,000 above the majority of Council members.</p> <p dir="ltr">When asked why his office budget was so much higher than that of the average Council member, Maisel told Gotham Gazette, “I have no idea. I don’t know what the reason is - maybe something built in from a previous Council member? I don’t know.” Maisel seemed surprised to hear he receives a larger office budget than other Council members, and asked what others receive.</p> <p dir="ltr">The speaker’s office was also unable to specify why Maisel receives a significantly higher office budget, saying only that the speaker retains the discretion to provide additional resources in limited circumstances - such a leadership positions, committee responsibilities, and hardship. Maisel succeeded Lew Fidler on the Council starting in 2014, the same year Mark-Viverito became speaker.</p> <p dir="ltr">In a statement, Council Member Richards explained to Gotham Gazette that he receives more for his office budget because “In District 31, we cover a large diverse constituency that has vastly different needs, from Southeast Queens, all the way to the Rockaways. The geographical distance between the two areas requires two district offices to handle the constituent caseload and day-to-day services more efficiently, which also requires additional staff to meet the needs of residents throughout the district.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Simply increasing Council members’ office budgets does not guarantee their staff members will receive a raise. Some Council members may choose to distribute the added $27,000-$32,000 in a way that gives each of their aides a pay raise, others may use the money to hire one additional staff member. Some Council members may not even use the added funds for salaries, but rather, to pay rent for a better office space or an additional office, or use it for OTPS.</p> <p dir="ltr">The $409,000 most Council members currently receive to run their offices creates a certain sense of equity, but does not take into account differing needs. Office rent may be higher on the Upper East Side than on Staten Island, for example, while Council members serving poverty-stricken districts may have cause to provide more robust constituent services than others, requiring them to hire additional constituent liaisons. Some Council members may need to offer different language services to their constituents.</p> <p dir="ltr">“My rent, I’m pretty sure, is twice as high as some of the members in the Bronx,” Rosenthal, who represents the Upper West Side, said. “And certainly, my staff, who mainly live in the district, probably need a little bit higher salaries to be able to stay, as opposed to someone in the Bronx. It’s a reality that I find challenging.”</p> <p dir="ltr">“Some of us have more demands on our staff than others, and there’s no recognition of that,” said Council Member Barron, who represents Brownsville and other parts of Brooklyn. Though office rent in poorer districts may be more affordable, Barron says, Council members representing “the Upper East Side, Upper West Side don’t have the same kinds of problems in terms of dealing with their constituents, agencies, and the problems that some of us in the more impoverished neighborhoods have. I think there should be some consideration of that.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Council Member Williams, who represents Flatbush and other parts of Brooklyn, also points to differences in demands on district offices. “Some districts have a high, high volume of constituent services, some districts have a lower amount, there are some districts that focus more on legislation,” Williams explained. “The needs of every district’s very different, you may have a constituent liaison that sees one person every day, and another that sees one person every hour.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Council members may hire as many staffers as they see fit, and the number of people they employ as well as the positions they name largely depend on the differing needs of their districts. Staff listings indicate Council members employ an average of seven aides, with some employing as many as nine or as few as four.</p> <p dir="ltr">Council members must choose between hiring a smaller staff and paying each aide more, or hiring more and paying each less.</p> <p dir="ltr">“It’s very unfortunate,” Council Member Antonio Reynoso, a former Council staffer himself, told Gotham Gazette. “Either we have three staff members and pay them a good amount for what they’re worth, or we have eight members and everyone’s taking a hit.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Council Member Torres, who represents parts of the Bronx, told Gotham Gazette he is currently experiencing some staff turnover, which he is “using to prioritize pay increases for existing staff. Even though there’s a real need for added capacity and more staffers.” Torres says he is choosing not to hire additional staff “because I cannot allow my staffers to earn what is an abysmal wage. It’s a death wage in some senses.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Staffers often end up filling numerous roles, with aides in many offices serving as both legislative director and budget director, legislative liaison and scheduler, or director of communications and legislation. Council aides are often in their twenties, working long hours, and eyeing other, higher-paying positions in government.</p> <p dir="ltr">Salaries for the same position can vary widely across offices, with Council members’ chiefs of staff - the highest paid staff position - receiving between $37,700 and $92,000 annually, according to 2015<a href="http://seethroughny.net/payrolls/city-of-new-york" target="_blank"> payroll records</a> compiled by The Empire Center. Most communications directors received between $28,700 and $50,000.</p> <p dir="ltr">During the <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6144-questions-remain-as-city-council-moves-ahead-with-pay-raises-reforms" target="_blank">only hearing</a> on the package of bills that raised the salaries of Council members by $36,000 and modified rules by which members earn additional money, Council members defended the raise by pointing out how hard they work, that their responsibilities have increased over the years, and that they work long hours. The workload of Council aides has increased as well.</p> <p dir="ltr">“We work more than 60 hours a week,” Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez said during the Feb. 3 hearing. “For me, this is a big compromise that we’re doing…our salaries should be $175,000,” added Rodriguez, who<a href="http://seethroughny.net/payrolls/city-of-new-york" target="_blank"> in 2015 paid</a> his seven staffers at least $15,038 and at most $56,231.</p> <p dir="ltr">In December, Speaker Mark-Viverito submitted a<a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/quadrennial/downloads/pdf/testimony/submission_and_attachments__speaker_melissa_markviverito.pdf" target="_blank"> letter</a> to the quadrennial commission describing the Council’s workload and reasons why Council members deserve a raise. “Each Member represents on average about 160,000 New Yorkers,” Mark-Viverito wrote, and “the time commitment for Council Members is considerable and most describe their jobs as ‘24/7,’ requiring them to be available around-the-clock.”</p> <p dir="ltr">“Council Members have already made 105% more bill and resolution drafting requests, introduced 41% more bills and enacted 32% more Local Laws than through the same time period in the immediately preceding session,” Mark-Viverito added.</p> <p dir="ltr">Given Council members’ rationale that their workload has increased and they therefore deserve a raise, Joy Simmons, chief of staff for Council Member Barron, told Gotham Gazette she believes “staff members should also get raises, because the burden of that work falls on our shoulders…there’s many staff members living paycheck to paycheck."</p> <p dir="ltr">“Many Council members work ’24/7,’ but their staffs do as well,” said Simmons, who was one of the staff members to stand in silent protest at the Feb. 5 vote - she also testified before the Council on Feb. 3. “We’re working way more than 40 hours and not getting overtime, and there’s no provision to make more, and if you don’t work those hours they’ll find someone else who will.”</p> <p dir="ltr">“My staff definitely works more than 40 hours a week,” Reynoso said. “My staff works just as hard, if not harder, than me, they’re out there every day, in meetings, in the nighttime. They represent me, so when I can’t go somewhere, they’re out there.”</p> <p dir="ltr">“There are staffers that are coming in the office at 9 a.m. and are done at their community board meetings at 9 p.m.,” Torres said, “and you’re receiving $25,000, $30,000, $35,000 a year? That’s absurd. That’s unlivable.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Low wages aren’t only hurting staffers - they diminish the professionalism of the City Council itself, Council members argue, and lead to a high turnover rate. Torres, Williams, and Reynoso believe Council members are given too few resources to adequately compensate their aides, causing Council members’ offices to become “a training ground for other agencies or other companies, because they see the work that the staff does, and they come and get them and we just can’t compete because there’s not enough money,” in Williams’ words.</p> <p dir="ltr">Reynoso says staffers often leave for similar positions in the mayor’s office that pay $60,000 a year - nearing the high end of what Council aides are paid. Other opportunities in city government abound. The Department of Education has six employees who do communications work - the highest paid among them (senior advisor to Chancellor Fariña for communications and external affairs) earned $177,235 in 2015. The DOE’s top press secretary earned $114,987, while the three deputy press secretaries made $69,065, $44,603, and $25,992, according to Empire Center <a href="http://seethroughny.net/payrolls">payroll records</a>. A DOE assistant press secretary made $54,685</p> <p dir="ltr">“We’re like the minor leagues,” Reynoso said. “Many of our staff members get taken away from us to work in jobs that pay substantially more, we can’t compete. So we end up doing all the training, all the development, and then after a year, they’re gone…It takes away from the professionalism that we have at our office.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Reynoso said that for certain types of work Council members do, such as land use, it would be ideal to hire a planner with a Master’s degree, yet because Council members are unable to offer them a competitive wage, they end up hiring someone who may not be a planner, but knows about planning, meaning the city ends up without “the top professionals to do these things that are an important part of our job.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Though the added funds to Council members’ office budgets may “help us get closer to fairness,” Reynoso says, “it’s still nothing that can help us get competitive with the mayor’s office. Outside of doubling our staff budgets, it’s not going to be competitive.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Ultimately, it is up to the Council speaker to set the office budgets for members. Yet, some question why Council members don’t push more aggressively for a significant increase to their office budgets to be included in the city budget.</p> <p dir="ltr">“These Council members have supported other workers out there looking for pay increases and looking for protections within their industries - you know, airport workers, retail workers,” Ndigo Washington, legislative director for Council Member Barron, told Gotham Gazette, expressing dismay at the fact that Council members will so readily push for higher wages for other workers, but leave their own staffers poorly compensated.</p> <p dir="ltr">More could be done to address the wage situation beyond simply increasing Council members’ office budgets. There should be standards, some Council members argue, for a minimum salary for a chief of staff, legislative director, budget director, deputy chief of staff, and all typical staff positions.</p> <p dir="ltr">“I think there’s an argument for a minimum,” Torres said, which he said would likely require a change to Council rules.</p> <p dir="ltr">A minimum standard could help, Council members and staffers say, though setting a uniform pay rate for certain positions is something to “be wary of,” according to Williams, given the vastly different roles and responsibilities of staffers from office to office.</p> <p dir="ltr">In the state Assembly, members’ office rents and utilities are paid through the central office. If the City Council were to alter the rules to allow rent to be paid centrally, it could free up money in Council members’ office budgets to be used to better compensate staffers, assuming significant deductions in those budgets would not be made.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Maybe the rent could be paid centrally,” Torres said, “so that it has no impact on the individual budgets of members.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Another issue raised by Washington and Simmons, both aides to Council Member Barron, is ensuring raises for staffers. “We’ve been told in the past that we might get a cost of living increase,” Washington said, “but we don’t know.” There is also the lack of job security or protection, as staffers are considered at-will employees. Council sources say they was a cost of living increase in 2015, one that applied to Council employees (working on the Council central staff and for members) with qualifying longevity.</p> <p dir="ltr">“What you have is a tale of two cities at City Hall,” said Council Member Torres. “You have egregious pay disparities in pay between the Mayor’s Office and the City Council...A poorly resourced City Council with poorly paid staff cannot possibly live up to its charter-mandated roles as a co-equal branch of government.”</p> <p dir="ltr">“It’s a professional position and we’re reducing it to the status of a glorified internship,” he added, of aide roles.</p> <p dir="ltr">Simmons says that she and her colleagues hope that the mayor and the Council will “pass a budget that includes raises for members of Council staff, and even central staff.”</p> <p dir="ltr">

***
by Meg O'Connor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Do New York Elected Officials Deserve A Raise? 2015-09-30T22:30:32+00:00 2015-09-30T22:30:32+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5915:do-new-york-elected-officials-deserve-a-raise Super User <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/BdB_parade_august.jpg" alt="BdB parade august" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p><span style="font-size: 10pt;">Mayor de Blasio along the parade route (photo: @BilldeBlasio)</span></p> <hr /> <p>What should the mayor of New York City be paid each year? How much should City Council members be paid? Do elected officials deserve incremental raises each year?</p> <p dir="ltr">Or, maybe elected officials are overpaid as it is?</p> <p dir="ltr">Some, like New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, think higher government salaries would entice “better” people into public service, meaning smarter and more honest officials.</p> <p dir="ltr">A host of questions have popped up in New York of late as controversy swirls over corruption in Albany and the pay of state legislators - with some, like Schneiderman, calling for pay increases in order to help prevent corruption. Meanwhile, in New York City, these questions are again relevant as Mayor Bill de Blasio, in a move required by law, has called a pay commission to evaluate city elected officials’ salaries.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Lawmakers need to come up with adequate compensation where you don’t detract people from running for office because salaries are too low, but on the flip side, not too high that the taxpayers who pay those salaries are incensed,” Blair Horner, Legislative Director at the New York Public Interest Research Group, told Gotham Gazette.</p> <p dir="ltr">De Blasio appears to have called the commission reluctantly, as it is always tough public relations for politicians to move toward giving themselves and their colleagues raises. In the announcement of the three-person panel, de Blasio’s only statement is to praise the commissioners. The mayor currently makes $225,000 per year.</p> <p dir="ltr">Pay dynamics at the city and state levels are very different in New York, though members of the state Legislature and City Council are all considered part-time and able to earn outside income. There are no term-limits at the state level, while there are in New York City. The mayor is required to call a compensation commission, yet the state is only just moving to such a framework in 2016. Thus, city officials last received a pay raise in 2006, while state officials haven’t seen one in over 15 years.</p> <p dir="ltr">Pay is higher in New York City than at the state level (the governor makes $179,000 annually), though the cost of living is, of course, higher in the city than any other place in the state. This discrepancy doesn’t help state legislators who live in the five boroughs, of course, which is part of the reason we often see state Assembly members seek City Council seats (and earn money from a second job). Members of the state legislature currently earn $79,500 per year, while a City Council member earns $112,500 annually.</p> <p dir="ltr">As always, you’d be hard-pressed to find too many New Yorkers calling for increasing the salaries of elected politicians. With wages stagnant or too low to get by on for so many, elected officials are also reluctant to pursue pay increases, as exemplified by de Blasio’s delay in calling the pay commission he recently assembled and the mayor’s pledge to not accept any recommended increase until his second term, if he is re-elected.</p> <p dir="ltr">Not long ago, former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a billionaire businessman, took $1 a year to run the city for twelve years. Bloomberg was also reluctant to call a pay commission, which he did leading to the 2006 raises, but refused to do again while in office.</p> <p dir="ltr">Where do the wages of New York electeds stand now, how do city salaries stack up to those of officials elsewhere, and where may they be heading?</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>New York City Analysis &amp; Background</strong><br />The salaries of the mayor, Council members, district attorneys, and other elected officials have not been changed since 2006. Since the cost of living in the city has<a href="http://data.bls.gov/pdq/SurveyOutputServlet?data_tool=dropmap&amp;series_id=CUURA101SA0,CUUSA101SA0" target="_blank"> increased</a> by about 18 percent since then, the commission is all but certain to recommend increases.</p> <p dir="ltr">One of the factors the commission will take into consideration is what similar positions in the private sector pay. By that standard, many elected officials may be considered underpaid – for example, the average salary for first-year associates at private law firms in New York City is<a href="http://www.nalp.org/2015_assoc_salaries" target="_blank"> $160,000</a>, while New York City’s five district attorneys each make $190,000.</p> <p dir="ltr">Elected officials can reject salary increases, and the acceptance or rejection of the commission’s recommendations typically takes into account the state of the city’s economy and budget at the time. While the city’s revenues are quite strong and the budget has been growing rapidly, Mayor de Blasio and many other elected officials have decried income inequality and may be reluctant to exacerbate differences between their salaries and the earnings of lower-income constituents.</p> <p dir="ltr">In 1991, as <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/1999/06/08/nyregion/it-s-that-time-again-pay-raise-debated-for-city-officials.html" target="_blank">reported</a> by The New York Times, both Mayor David Dinkins and City Council Speaker Peter Vallone Sr. agreed that elected officials should not receive pay increases due to the city’s budget crisis.</p> <p dir="ltr">In 1995, everyone except Public Advocate Mark Green accepted the raises that were approved by the Council and the mayor. Green<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/1999/06/08/nyregion/it-s-that-time-again-pay-raise-debated-for-city-officials.html" target="_blank"> said</a> that he could not “in good conscience accept a large salary increase” at a time when he was being forced to fire members of his staff and cut services for those in need.</p> <p dir="ltr">Former Mayor Mike Bloomberg, a billionaire from his private sector success, accepted just $1 a year during his time as mayor of New York City, 2002-2013. De Blasio is of much more modest means than Bloomberg, and has two children in college and two mortgages. According to<a href="http://nypost.com/2015/09/19/de-blasio-moves-to-give-himself-and-others-at-city-hall-a-raise/" target="_blank"> The New York Post</a>, when asked whether Mayor de Blasio believes raises are justified, a spokesperson said he would “decline” accepting any pay hike “for the duration” of his current term.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Other Cities</strong><br />At $225,000 a year, the mayor’s salary is more than four times greater than median household income in New York City, which is $52,259.</p> <p dir="ltr">According to the City of Los Angeles salary <a href="http://salaries.scpr.org/list/mayor" target="_blank">database</a>, the title of highest-paid mayor in the country belongs to LA Mayor Eric Garcetti, who makes $239,993<a href="http://salaries.scpr.org/list/mayor" target="_blank"> annually</a>. Although Mayor Garcetti makes roughly $15,000 more per year than Mayor de Blasio, he is responsible for approximately 4.6 million fewer people. (2014 Census estimates put the population of New York City at 8.5 million, and Los Angeles at 3.9 million.)</p> <p dir="ltr">In New York, City Council members currently make $112,500, plus stipends, with salaries part of the regular commission review. In Chicago, council members – called aldermen – make approximately $115,000 annually, and their salaries have been<a href="http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/politics/ct-chicago-aldermen-salaries-2-20141128-story.html" target="_blank"> pegged</a> to changes to the cost of living for the past eight years. Since aldermen can reject taking a salary increase (or decrease, should the cost of living go down), there is an $11,000 difference between the highest and lowest salaries of Chicago’s 50 aldermen. (Though they are paid similarly, each of those 50 aldermen are responsible for far fewer constituents than New York’s 51 City Council members, given population differences.)</p> <p dir="ltr">In Los Angeles, the salary for Council members is higher – at $184,610, Council members make a little over four times the $49,497 median household income in LA. However, members of LA’s City Council are not allowed to earn income from outside jobs, nor do they receive stipends.</p> <p dir="ltr">On the state level, meanwhile, at $79,500 New York state lawmakers have the<a href="http://www.ncsl.org/research/about-state-legislatures/2014-ncsl-legislator-salary-and-per-diem-table.aspx" target="_blank"> third-highest salaries</a> in the country compared to their peers. Lawmakers in California earn the most with a salary of $90,526 annually, while Pennsylvania’s legislators make $84,012 per year. Still, state legislators, especially many from New York City, are seeking an increase as the cost of living increases.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>De Blasio’s Commission</strong><br />Albeit a bit late, Mayor Bill de Blasio recently followed the law and <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/627-15/mayor-de-blasio-independent-quadrennial-advisory-commission-bringing-together-three" target="_blank">appointed</a> an advisory commission to review the compensation levels of elected officials, including mayor, public advocate, comptroller, borough presidents, City Council members, and district attorneys. The three-person commission will recommend changes to those compensation levels, if warranted, in November.</p> <p dir="ltr">The salaries of elected officials in New York City have not been reviewed since 2006; former Mayor Mike Bloomberg declined to appoint a commission in 2011. The appointment of an advisory commission in 2006 was itself the result of postponement, since a commission was supposed to be appointed in 2003, but Bloomberg opted to delay appointing a commission since the city was already facing budget cuts.</p> <p dir="ltr">The 2006 commission’s <a href="http://www.citizensunion.org/www/cu/site/hosting/Reports/2006_QuadCompensationCommission_Report.pdf" target="_blank">recommendations</a> resulted in a salary increase of 25 percent for Council members, bumping their compensation levels from $90,000 to $112,500, and increased the mayor’s salary by 15.4 percent, from $195,000 to $225,000.</p> <p dir="ltr">New York City law requires the salaries of elected officials to be reviewed every four years by a trio of private citizens who are generally recognized for their knowledge of management and compensation. This year, the commission includes Fritz Schwarz, Jr., the Chief Counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice, who will chair the Commission; Jill Bright, Chief Administrative Officer at Condé Nast; and Paul Quintero, Chief Executive Office at ACCION EAST, Inc., a nonprofit that works to empower low- to moderate-income business owners with access to capital and financial education.</p> <p dir="ltr">According to<a href="http://law.justia.com/codes/new-york/2006/new-york-city-administrative-code-new/adc03-601_3-601.html" target="_blank"> §3-601</a> of the New York City code, in making its recommendations, the commission will take into consideration: “the duties and responsibilities of each position; the current salary of the position and the length of time since the last change; any change in the cost of living; compression of salary levels for other officers and employees of the city; and salaries and salary trends for positions with analogous duties and responsibilities both within government and in the private sector.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Requiring regular commissions and placing the responsibility for recommending salary increases on private citizens are means to quell discontent around the inherently contentious issue of raising the pay of elected officials. Ultimately, the mayor may accept, reject, or amend the findings of the commission, and the City Council votes on any new salaries to approve them into law.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>State Level Compensation and Corruption</strong><br />In April, the state Assembly included the creation of a commission on legislative, judicial, and executive compensation in a<a href="http://assembly.state.ny.us/leg/?default_fld=&amp;bn=A06721&amp;term=&amp;Summary=Y&amp;Actions=Y&amp;Text=Y" target="_blank"> budget bill</a>. It <a href="http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/albany/2015/04/8565337/legislative-pay-raise-commission-created" target="_blank">calls for</a> a commission to review the compensation levels of the legislative, judicial, and executive branches to be established every four years. The first, though, will be convened in 2016, and pay raise recommendations could be passed that would go into effect for the new class of legislators come 2017.</p> <p dir="ltr">The commission will consist of seven members: three appointed by the governor; one appointed by the Senate majority leader; one appointed by the speaker of the Assembly; and two appointed by the chief judge of the Court of Appeals.</p> <p dir="ltr">Previously, a special commission on compensation had to be empanelled when agreed upon.</p> <p dir="ltr">However, given the overwhelming unpopularity of any mention of potentially increasing the salaries of government officials, especially given the consistent parade of corruption cases coming out of Albany, their salaries often go unchanged for long periods of time. New York state-level officials have not had their salaries increased since 1999 – a duration that would be uncommon in the private sector and in many public-sector jobs.</p> <p dir="ltr">A 2014 Quinnipiac University<a href="http://www.quinnipiac.edu/news-and-events/quinnipiac-university-poll/new-york-state/release-detail?ReleaseID=2121" target="_blank"> poll</a> found that a vast majority of New York State voters (82 percent) oppose a pay raise for state legislators. Yet, many experts agree a review of the compensation levels of elected officials is much needed, not only because good compensation levels are necessary to attract skilled people to the positions, but also because it may help deter corruption.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Compensation, of course, affects the recruitment pool,” said Gerald Benjamin, professor of political science and director of the Benjamin Center at SUNY New Paltz. “You want to attract and retain people of ability, and honest people, therefore the whole compensation question is linked to the corruption question. ‘Why are you stealing from your campaign fund?’ ‘Well, I’m not paid enough.’ If we want to have greater probity we also have to consider greater compensation.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Former state Assemblymember William Scarborough, a Democrat from Queens, was recently <a href="http://www.timesunion.com/local/article/Assemblyman-William-Scarborough-faces-sentencing-6503039.php" target="_blank">sentenced</a> to thirteen months in prison for submitting at least $40,000 in fraudulent state travel vouchers for days he had not actually traveled to Albany. In a<a href="http://www.timesunion.com/news/article/Exclusive-Assemblyman-William-Scarborough-to-6228256.php" target="_blank"> statement</a>, Scarborough, who was first elected in 1994, apologized for his actions, blamed “severe financial problems,” and pointed out that state legislators had not received a raise in sixteen years.</p> <p dir="ltr">Members of the Senate and Assembly currently make a base government salary of $79,500 per year. (The positions are considered part-time, though, and many legislators make outside income.) The governor of New York makes $179,000, the attorney general and the comptroller each make $151,500.</p> <p dir="ltr">In January, then-Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Manhattan Democrat who has been in office for several decades, was charged with five counts of fraud and corruption. Federal investigators allege Silver exploited his position to rake in millions in<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/23/nyregion/speaker-of-new-york-assembly-sheldon-silver-is-arrested-in-corruption-case.html" target="_blank"> bribes and kickbacks</a>. And in May, then-Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, a Republican from Long Island, was<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/29/nyregion/dean-skelos-ex-senate-leader-and-son-are-indicted-in-corruption-case.html" target="_blank"> indicted</a> on charges of wire fraud, extortion, conspiracy, and bribe solicitation. Both face trial beginning in November.</p> <p dir="ltr">Aside from major, and even minor, corruption scandals, there is a perpetual flow of questions about campaign donations, pay-to-play dynamics, and legislators earning outside income and how their non-governmental work may affect their work for the state.</p> <p dir="ltr">These ongoing questions and the recent spate of corruption in Albany prompted Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to propose a sweeping ethics reform bill, the <a href="http://www.ag.ny.gov/press-release/op-ed-end-corruption-now" target="_blank">End New York Corruption Now Act</a>, which seeks to drastically lower and restrict campaign contribution limits, end outside employment income for legislators, expand terms to four years, and increase legislators’ salaries to $174,000 annually.</p> <p dir="ltr">Yet the<a href="http://observer.com/2015/06/schneiderman-calls-absence-of-ethics-reform-from-albany-deal-incomprehensible/" target="_blank"> final legislative package</a> at the end of the 2015 session came and went without including any of Schneiderman’s reforms.</p> <p dir="ltr">Some good government organizations, like the New York Public Interest Research Group, don’t agree with all of Schneiderman’s propositions. Horner told Gotham Gazette, “We have not endorsed the Attorney General’s proposal that state legislators should get the same pay as city lawmakers. Our view is, there’s a process. Their salaries should be determined by independent people using basic objective measurements as much as possible, making independent determinations on what is an adequate compensation level for elected officials.”</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>City v State</strong><br />Two major differences between New York City law and state law are that in New York City, both the mayor and the City Council need to approve the recommendations made by the compensation commission in order for any raises to go into effect. This means that the Council and the mayor are effectively voting to increase their own salaries, since the raises can be retroactive to the date of recommendations. Mayor de Blasio, however, has promised not to take a salary increase until the start of his second term, if he is re-elected to one.</p> <p dir="ltr">Whereas in the state, the pay commission’s recommendations for legislative pay raises will automatically become law and go into effect for the next class of lawmakers, on January 1, 2017, unless the Legislature specifically votes against the increases. The commission’s recommendations are due November 15, 2016. To be sure, many of the same officials will be in office in January of 2017 as are in office now, but it is still a difference.</p> <p dir="ltr">While city officials are not supposed to have control of the regular establishment of a compensation commission, they are able to vote in retroactive salary increases, an ability that has raised eyebrows. In its <a href="http://www.citizensunion.org/www/cu/site/hosting/Reports/2006_QuadCompensationCommission_Report.pdf" target="_blank">report</a>, the 2006 quadrennial advisory commission suggested “limiting the ability of government officials to raise their own salaries and receive them immediately would improve the integrity of the government and public confidence in it.”</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Lulus</strong><br />The compensation levels of New York City Council members in particular has been hotly debated, since Council members can earn an additional $5,000 to $25,000 a year in<a href="http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2014/01/23/govt-watchdog-city-council-broke-a-promise-by-voting-to-dole-out-stipends/" target="_blank"> stipends</a>, or “lulus,” for leadership positions, including heading committees and subcommittees. What’s more, Council members are the only elected city officials among those included in the commission review that are considered part-time and allowed to earn outside income from another job.</p> <p dir="ltr">The Speaker of the Council controls the amount and distribution of lulus, which can result in lulus being used to “reward allies and enforce discipline,” as former Council Member Walter McCaffrey <a href="http://www.citizensunion.org/www/cu/site/hosting/Reports/2006_QuadCompensationCommission_Report.pdf" target="_blank">stated</a> before the 2006 Quadrennial Commission.</p> <p dir="ltr">In its report, the 2006 Commission<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2006/10/24/nyregion/24raises.html?_r=0" target="_blank"> called</a> lulus “ripe for reform,” and recommended that either a future Charter Revision Commission or the Council should consider reforming the practice of awarding extra stipends to Council members.</p> <p dir="ltr">“There's no question that lulus should be done away with. Lulus are a terrible idea.,” Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, told Gotham Gazette. “People should be paid an appropriate base salary, and there should not be increases or stipends or special favors given out at the discretion of the speaker. It's a politicized situation and it has all too frequently been used in the past as a way of punishment and reward. It has another negative aspect, which is the creation of committees unnecessarily. It interferes with the well thought out committee structure. We see that in a much worse way in Albany.”</p> <p dir="ltr">According to <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/16/nyregion/16pay.html" target="_blank">The New York Times</a>, the 2006 advisory commission found that “Outside of New York, almost no other city council or state legislature distributes such stipends.” Even in Congress, every representative earns the same pay regardless of responsibility or seniority.</p> <p dir="ltr">In 2014, $376,000 in stipends was doled out to Council members. City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito received $25,000, while Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer was awarded $20,000 (though he turned it down).</p> <p dir="ltr">Ten council members were offered $15,000 apiece and thirty-four others $8,000<a href="http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2014/01/23/govt-watchdog-city-council-broke-a-promise-by-voting-to-dole-out-stipends/" target="_blank"> each</a>. Eleven council members have refused to accept the money this year (including Van Bramer), according to the <a href="http://m.nydailynews.com/opinion/editorial-heroes-villains-nyc-council-article-1.2311257" target="_blank">Daily News editorial board</a>, which continues its own ongoing crusade against the lulus.</p> <p dir="ltr">Upon Mayor de Blasio’s recent announcement of a new compensation commission, Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, <a href="http://nypost.com/2015/09/19/de-blasio-moves-to-give-himself-and-others-at-city-hall-a-raise/" target="_blank">told</a> The New York Post that he supports elected officials getting raises since “eight years is a long time to go without one,” but pointed out that “the real question isn’t whether they get raises, it’s the size of the raises and whether the commission will look at limiting [elected officials’] outside income and banning ‘lulus.’”</p> <p dir="ltr">The controversy surrounding stipends for elected officials in New York is not specific to the city, as Horner told Gotham Gazette: “At state level, there are a lot of stipends being divied out, many for positions for which there's not obvious work being done. The stipends are increasingly being used as a way to reward loyalty and seniority and are less about the workload. We don’t object to a stipend being offered if somebody has to do real additional work, but we think there should be a limit on it.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Professor Benjamin told Gotham Gazette, “Regarding additional compensation, lulus in Albany, I think that this process grew up to compensate leaders in part to make salary adjustments. So, in a small body like the Senate you can give every committee chair something more. In the Assembly, you can reward a lot of people, but not all people. There should be some increment of compensation for leadership positions, but I prefer to have salary equity and less in the way of special payments, with periodic salary adjustments, which would be fair and better.”</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Next Steps</strong><br />Blair Horner, of NYPIRG, told Gotham Gazette that pegging salaries to cost-of-living changes could “unnecessarily exacerbate public citizens. They don’t get to choose if their salaries go up and down. And if what they see in their lives is that their salaries are stagnant but elected officials are going up, they’re going to resent that. It's hard to do that because it's a politically charged topic. If you’re going to make changes, it needs to be done in a delicate matter. One way to do that is to maximize independence of who makes the call and focus on publicly defensible metrics.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Professor Benjamin, who is also currently part of a compensation commission in Ulster County, expressed a similar point of view: “I think having a commission is a good idea.” Benjamin believes, though, that it is important that “sometimes the commission says ‘we won’t increase the pay.’ In my current commission in Ulster County, because the positions are part-time, I advocated for the legislature giving up its health insurance coverage for a significant salary increase. And the effect of that was to link the consideration to the total compensation package.”</p> <p dir="ltr">“Simple constitutionality requires that policy-makers make the decision about things that government spends, and one of the things that government spends is on their salaries,” Benjamin added.</p> <p dir="ltr">This year’s New York City advisory commission will report back with its recommendations in November. While it’s clear that the compensation levels of elected officials need to be reviewed from time to time, the announcement of a review commission is generally seen as unfavorable – in this case prompting the New York Post to print <a href="http://nypost.com/2015/09/19/de-blasio-moves-to-give-himself-and-others-at-city-hall-a-raise/" target="_blank">a headline</a> declaring, “Bill de Blasio moves to give himself a raise.”</p> <p dir="ltr">***<br />by Meg O'Connor, Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/megoconnor13" target="_blank">@MegOconnor13</a><br /><a href="https://twitter.com/GothamGazette" target="_blank">@GothamGazette</a></p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/BdB_parade_august.jpg" alt="BdB parade august" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p><span style="font-size: 10pt;">Mayor de Blasio along the parade route (photo: @BilldeBlasio)</span></p> <hr /> <p>What should the mayor of New York City be paid each year? How much should City Council members be paid? Do elected officials deserve incremental raises each year?</p> <p dir="ltr">Or, maybe elected officials are overpaid as it is?</p> <p dir="ltr">Some, like New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, think higher government salaries would entice “better” people into public service, meaning smarter and more honest officials.</p> <p dir="ltr">A host of questions have popped up in New York of late as controversy swirls over corruption in Albany and the pay of state legislators - with some, like Schneiderman, calling for pay increases in order to help prevent corruption. Meanwhile, in New York City, these questions are again relevant as Mayor Bill de Blasio, in a move required by law, has called a pay commission to evaluate city elected officials’ salaries.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Lawmakers need to come up with adequate compensation where you don’t detract people from running for office because salaries are too low, but on the flip side, not too high that the taxpayers who pay those salaries are incensed,” Blair Horner, Legislative Director at the New York Public Interest Research Group, told Gotham Gazette.</p> <p dir="ltr">De Blasio appears to have called the commission reluctantly, as it is always tough public relations for politicians to move toward giving themselves and their colleagues raises. In the announcement of the three-person panel, de Blasio’s only statement is to praise the commissioners. The mayor currently makes $225,000 per year.</p> <p dir="ltr">Pay dynamics at the city and state levels are very different in New York, though members of the state Legislature and City Council are all considered part-time and able to earn outside income. There are no term-limits at the state level, while there are in New York City. The mayor is required to call a compensation commission, yet the state is only just moving to such a framework in 2016. Thus, city officials last received a pay raise in 2006, while state officials haven’t seen one in over 15 years.</p> <p dir="ltr">Pay is higher in New York City than at the state level (the governor makes $179,000 annually), though the cost of living is, of course, higher in the city than any other place in the state. This discrepancy doesn’t help state legislators who live in the five boroughs, of course, which is part of the reason we often see state Assembly members seek City Council seats (and earn money from a second job). Members of the state legislature currently earn $79,500 per year, while a City Council member earns $112,500 annually.</p> <p dir="ltr">As always, you’d be hard-pressed to find too many New Yorkers calling for increasing the salaries of elected politicians. With wages stagnant or too low to get by on for so many, elected officials are also reluctant to pursue pay increases, as exemplified by de Blasio’s delay in calling the pay commission he recently assembled and the mayor’s pledge to not accept any recommended increase until his second term, if he is re-elected.</p> <p dir="ltr">Not long ago, former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a billionaire businessman, took $1 a year to run the city for twelve years. Bloomberg was also reluctant to call a pay commission, which he did leading to the 2006 raises, but refused to do again while in office.</p> <p dir="ltr">Where do the wages of New York electeds stand now, how do city salaries stack up to those of officials elsewhere, and where may they be heading?</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>New York City Analysis &amp; Background</strong><br />The salaries of the mayor, Council members, district attorneys, and other elected officials have not been changed since 2006. Since the cost of living in the city has<a href="http://data.bls.gov/pdq/SurveyOutputServlet?data_tool=dropmap&amp;series_id=CUURA101SA0,CUUSA101SA0" target="_blank"> increased</a> by about 18 percent since then, the commission is all but certain to recommend increases.</p> <p dir="ltr">One of the factors the commission will take into consideration is what similar positions in the private sector pay. By that standard, many elected officials may be considered underpaid – for example, the average salary for first-year associates at private law firms in New York City is<a href="http://www.nalp.org/2015_assoc_salaries" target="_blank"> $160,000</a>, while New York City’s five district attorneys each make $190,000.</p> <p dir="ltr">Elected officials can reject salary increases, and the acceptance or rejection of the commission’s recommendations typically takes into account the state of the city’s economy and budget at the time. While the city’s revenues are quite strong and the budget has been growing rapidly, Mayor de Blasio and many other elected officials have decried income inequality and may be reluctant to exacerbate differences between their salaries and the earnings of lower-income constituents.</p> <p dir="ltr">In 1991, as <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/1999/06/08/nyregion/it-s-that-time-again-pay-raise-debated-for-city-officials.html" target="_blank">reported</a> by The New York Times, both Mayor David Dinkins and City Council Speaker Peter Vallone Sr. agreed that elected officials should not receive pay increases due to the city’s budget crisis.</p> <p dir="ltr">In 1995, everyone except Public Advocate Mark Green accepted the raises that were approved by the Council and the mayor. Green<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/1999/06/08/nyregion/it-s-that-time-again-pay-raise-debated-for-city-officials.html" target="_blank"> said</a> that he could not “in good conscience accept a large salary increase” at a time when he was being forced to fire members of his staff and cut services for those in need.</p> <p dir="ltr">Former Mayor Mike Bloomberg, a billionaire from his private sector success, accepted just $1 a year during his time as mayor of New York City, 2002-2013. De Blasio is of much more modest means than Bloomberg, and has two children in college and two mortgages. According to<a href="http://nypost.com/2015/09/19/de-blasio-moves-to-give-himself-and-others-at-city-hall-a-raise/" target="_blank"> The New York Post</a>, when asked whether Mayor de Blasio believes raises are justified, a spokesperson said he would “decline” accepting any pay hike “for the duration” of his current term.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Other Cities</strong><br />At $225,000 a year, the mayor’s salary is more than four times greater than median household income in New York City, which is $52,259.</p> <p dir="ltr">According to the City of Los Angeles salary <a href="http://salaries.scpr.org/list/mayor" target="_blank">database</a>, the title of highest-paid mayor in the country belongs to LA Mayor Eric Garcetti, who makes $239,993<a href="http://salaries.scpr.org/list/mayor" target="_blank"> annually</a>. Although Mayor Garcetti makes roughly $15,000 more per year than Mayor de Blasio, he is responsible for approximately 4.6 million fewer people. (2014 Census estimates put the population of New York City at 8.5 million, and Los Angeles at 3.9 million.)</p> <p dir="ltr">In New York, City Council members currently make $112,500, plus stipends, with salaries part of the regular commission review. In Chicago, council members – called aldermen – make approximately $115,000 annually, and their salaries have been<a href="http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/politics/ct-chicago-aldermen-salaries-2-20141128-story.html" target="_blank"> pegged</a> to changes to the cost of living for the past eight years. Since aldermen can reject taking a salary increase (or decrease, should the cost of living go down), there is an $11,000 difference between the highest and lowest salaries of Chicago’s 50 aldermen. (Though they are paid similarly, each of those 50 aldermen are responsible for far fewer constituents than New York’s 51 City Council members, given population differences.)</p> <p dir="ltr">In Los Angeles, the salary for Council members is higher – at $184,610, Council members make a little over four times the $49,497 median household income in LA. However, members of LA’s City Council are not allowed to earn income from outside jobs, nor do they receive stipends.</p> <p dir="ltr">On the state level, meanwhile, at $79,500 New York state lawmakers have the<a href="http://www.ncsl.org/research/about-state-legislatures/2014-ncsl-legislator-salary-and-per-diem-table.aspx" target="_blank"> third-highest salaries</a> in the country compared to their peers. Lawmakers in California earn the most with a salary of $90,526 annually, while Pennsylvania’s legislators make $84,012 per year. Still, state legislators, especially many from New York City, are seeking an increase as the cost of living increases.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>De Blasio’s Commission</strong><br />Albeit a bit late, Mayor Bill de Blasio recently followed the law and <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/627-15/mayor-de-blasio-independent-quadrennial-advisory-commission-bringing-together-three" target="_blank">appointed</a> an advisory commission to review the compensation levels of elected officials, including mayor, public advocate, comptroller, borough presidents, City Council members, and district attorneys. The three-person commission will recommend changes to those compensation levels, if warranted, in November.</p> <p dir="ltr">The salaries of elected officials in New York City have not been reviewed since 2006; former Mayor Mike Bloomberg declined to appoint a commission in 2011. The appointment of an advisory commission in 2006 was itself the result of postponement, since a commission was supposed to be appointed in 2003, but Bloomberg opted to delay appointing a commission since the city was already facing budget cuts.</p> <p dir="ltr">The 2006 commission’s <a href="http://www.citizensunion.org/www/cu/site/hosting/Reports/2006_QuadCompensationCommission_Report.pdf" target="_blank">recommendations</a> resulted in a salary increase of 25 percent for Council members, bumping their compensation levels from $90,000 to $112,500, and increased the mayor’s salary by 15.4 percent, from $195,000 to $225,000.</p> <p dir="ltr">New York City law requires the salaries of elected officials to be reviewed every four years by a trio of private citizens who are generally recognized for their knowledge of management and compensation. This year, the commission includes Fritz Schwarz, Jr., the Chief Counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice, who will chair the Commission; Jill Bright, Chief Administrative Officer at Condé Nast; and Paul Quintero, Chief Executive Office at ACCION EAST, Inc., a nonprofit that works to empower low- to moderate-income business owners with access to capital and financial education.</p> <p dir="ltr">According to<a href="http://law.justia.com/codes/new-york/2006/new-york-city-administrative-code-new/adc03-601_3-601.html" target="_blank"> §3-601</a> of the New York City code, in making its recommendations, the commission will take into consideration: “the duties and responsibilities of each position; the current salary of the position and the length of time since the last change; any change in the cost of living; compression of salary levels for other officers and employees of the city; and salaries and salary trends for positions with analogous duties and responsibilities both within government and in the private sector.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Requiring regular commissions and placing the responsibility for recommending salary increases on private citizens are means to quell discontent around the inherently contentious issue of raising the pay of elected officials. Ultimately, the mayor may accept, reject, or amend the findings of the commission, and the City Council votes on any new salaries to approve them into law.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>State Level Compensation and Corruption</strong><br />In April, the state Assembly included the creation of a commission on legislative, judicial, and executive compensation in a<a href="http://assembly.state.ny.us/leg/?default_fld=&amp;bn=A06721&amp;term=&amp;Summary=Y&amp;Actions=Y&amp;Text=Y" target="_blank"> budget bill</a>. It <a href="http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/albany/2015/04/8565337/legislative-pay-raise-commission-created" target="_blank">calls for</a> a commission to review the compensation levels of the legislative, judicial, and executive branches to be established every four years. The first, though, will be convened in 2016, and pay raise recommendations could be passed that would go into effect for the new class of legislators come 2017.</p> <p dir="ltr">The commission will consist of seven members: three appointed by the governor; one appointed by the Senate majority leader; one appointed by the speaker of the Assembly; and two appointed by the chief judge of the Court of Appeals.</p> <p dir="ltr">Previously, a special commission on compensation had to be empanelled when agreed upon.</p> <p dir="ltr">However, given the overwhelming unpopularity of any mention of potentially increasing the salaries of government officials, especially given the consistent parade of corruption cases coming out of Albany, their salaries often go unchanged for long periods of time. New York state-level officials have not had their salaries increased since 1999 – a duration that would be uncommon in the private sector and in many public-sector jobs.</p> <p dir="ltr">A 2014 Quinnipiac University<a href="http://www.quinnipiac.edu/news-and-events/quinnipiac-university-poll/new-york-state/release-detail?ReleaseID=2121" target="_blank"> poll</a> found that a vast majority of New York State voters (82 percent) oppose a pay raise for state legislators. Yet, many experts agree a review of the compensation levels of elected officials is much needed, not only because good compensation levels are necessary to attract skilled people to the positions, but also because it may help deter corruption.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Compensation, of course, affects the recruitment pool,” said Gerald Benjamin, professor of political science and director of the Benjamin Center at SUNY New Paltz. “You want to attract and retain people of ability, and honest people, therefore the whole compensation question is linked to the corruption question. ‘Why are you stealing from your campaign fund?’ ‘Well, I’m not paid enough.’ If we want to have greater probity we also have to consider greater compensation.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Former state Assemblymember William Scarborough, a Democrat from Queens, was recently <a href="http://www.timesunion.com/local/article/Assemblyman-William-Scarborough-faces-sentencing-6503039.php" target="_blank">sentenced</a> to thirteen months in prison for submitting at least $40,000 in fraudulent state travel vouchers for days he had not actually traveled to Albany. In a<a href="http://www.timesunion.com/news/article/Exclusive-Assemblyman-William-Scarborough-to-6228256.php" target="_blank"> statement</a>, Scarborough, who was first elected in 1994, apologized for his actions, blamed “severe financial problems,” and pointed out that state legislators had not received a raise in sixteen years.</p> <p dir="ltr">Members of the Senate and Assembly currently make a base government salary of $79,500 per year. (The positions are considered part-time, though, and many legislators make outside income.) The governor of New York makes $179,000, the attorney general and the comptroller each make $151,500.</p> <p dir="ltr">In January, then-Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Manhattan Democrat who has been in office for several decades, was charged with five counts of fraud and corruption. Federal investigators allege Silver exploited his position to rake in millions in<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/23/nyregion/speaker-of-new-york-assembly-sheldon-silver-is-arrested-in-corruption-case.html" target="_blank"> bribes and kickbacks</a>. And in May, then-Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, a Republican from Long Island, was<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/29/nyregion/dean-skelos-ex-senate-leader-and-son-are-indicted-in-corruption-case.html" target="_blank"> indicted</a> on charges of wire fraud, extortion, conspiracy, and bribe solicitation. Both face trial beginning in November.</p> <p dir="ltr">Aside from major, and even minor, corruption scandals, there is a perpetual flow of questions about campaign donations, pay-to-play dynamics, and legislators earning outside income and how their non-governmental work may affect their work for the state.</p> <p dir="ltr">These ongoing questions and the recent spate of corruption in Albany prompted Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to propose a sweeping ethics reform bill, the <a href="http://www.ag.ny.gov/press-release/op-ed-end-corruption-now" target="_blank">End New York Corruption Now Act</a>, which seeks to drastically lower and restrict campaign contribution limits, end outside employment income for legislators, expand terms to four years, and increase legislators’ salaries to $174,000 annually.</p> <p dir="ltr">Yet the<a href="http://observer.com/2015/06/schneiderman-calls-absence-of-ethics-reform-from-albany-deal-incomprehensible/" target="_blank"> final legislative package</a> at the end of the 2015 session came and went without including any of Schneiderman’s reforms.</p> <p dir="ltr">Some good government organizations, like the New York Public Interest Research Group, don’t agree with all of Schneiderman’s propositions. Horner told Gotham Gazette, “We have not endorsed the Attorney General’s proposal that state legislators should get the same pay as city lawmakers. Our view is, there’s a process. Their salaries should be determined by independent people using basic objective measurements as much as possible, making independent determinations on what is an adequate compensation level for elected officials.”</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>City v State</strong><br />Two major differences between New York City law and state law are that in New York City, both the mayor and the City Council need to approve the recommendations made by the compensation commission in order for any raises to go into effect. This means that the Council and the mayor are effectively voting to increase their own salaries, since the raises can be retroactive to the date of recommendations. Mayor de Blasio, however, has promised not to take a salary increase until the start of his second term, if he is re-elected to one.</p> <p dir="ltr">Whereas in the state, the pay commission’s recommendations for legislative pay raises will automatically become law and go into effect for the next class of lawmakers, on January 1, 2017, unless the Legislature specifically votes against the increases. The commission’s recommendations are due November 15, 2016. To be sure, many of the same officials will be in office in January of 2017 as are in office now, but it is still a difference.</p> <p dir="ltr">While city officials are not supposed to have control of the regular establishment of a compensation commission, they are able to vote in retroactive salary increases, an ability that has raised eyebrows. In its <a href="http://www.citizensunion.org/www/cu/site/hosting/Reports/2006_QuadCompensationCommission_Report.pdf" target="_blank">report</a>, the 2006 quadrennial advisory commission suggested “limiting the ability of government officials to raise their own salaries and receive them immediately would improve the integrity of the government and public confidence in it.”</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Lulus</strong><br />The compensation levels of New York City Council members in particular has been hotly debated, since Council members can earn an additional $5,000 to $25,000 a year in<a href="http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2014/01/23/govt-watchdog-city-council-broke-a-promise-by-voting-to-dole-out-stipends/" target="_blank"> stipends</a>, or “lulus,” for leadership positions, including heading committees and subcommittees. What’s more, Council members are the only elected city officials among those included in the commission review that are considered part-time and allowed to earn outside income from another job.</p> <p dir="ltr">The Speaker of the Council controls the amount and distribution of lulus, which can result in lulus being used to “reward allies and enforce discipline,” as former Council Member Walter McCaffrey <a href="http://www.citizensunion.org/www/cu/site/hosting/Reports/2006_QuadCompensationCommission_Report.pdf" target="_blank">stated</a> before the 2006 Quadrennial Commission.</p> <p dir="ltr">In its report, the 2006 Commission<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2006/10/24/nyregion/24raises.html?_r=0" target="_blank"> called</a> lulus “ripe for reform,” and recommended that either a future Charter Revision Commission or the Council should consider reforming the practice of awarding extra stipends to Council members.</p> <p dir="ltr">“There's no question that lulus should be done away with. Lulus are a terrible idea.,” Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, told Gotham Gazette. “People should be paid an appropriate base salary, and there should not be increases or stipends or special favors given out at the discretion of the speaker. It's a politicized situation and it has all too frequently been used in the past as a way of punishment and reward. It has another negative aspect, which is the creation of committees unnecessarily. It interferes with the well thought out committee structure. We see that in a much worse way in Albany.”</p> <p dir="ltr">According to <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/16/nyregion/16pay.html" target="_blank">The New York Times</a>, the 2006 advisory commission found that “Outside of New York, almost no other city council or state legislature distributes such stipends.” Even in Congress, every representative earns the same pay regardless of responsibility or seniority.</p> <p dir="ltr">In 2014, $376,000 in stipends was doled out to Council members. City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito received $25,000, while Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer was awarded $20,000 (though he turned it down).</p> <p dir="ltr">Ten council members were offered $15,000 apiece and thirty-four others $8,000<a href="http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2014/01/23/govt-watchdog-city-council-broke-a-promise-by-voting-to-dole-out-stipends/" target="_blank"> each</a>. Eleven council members have refused to accept the money this year (including Van Bramer), according to the <a href="http://m.nydailynews.com/opinion/editorial-heroes-villains-nyc-council-article-1.2311257" target="_blank">Daily News editorial board</a>, which continues its own ongoing crusade against the lulus.</p> <p dir="ltr">Upon Mayor de Blasio’s recent announcement of a new compensation commission, Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, <a href="http://nypost.com/2015/09/19/de-blasio-moves-to-give-himself-and-others-at-city-hall-a-raise/" target="_blank">told</a> The New York Post that he supports elected officials getting raises since “eight years is a long time to go without one,” but pointed out that “the real question isn’t whether they get raises, it’s the size of the raises and whether the commission will look at limiting [elected officials’] outside income and banning ‘lulus.’”</p> <p dir="ltr">The controversy surrounding stipends for elected officials in New York is not specific to the city, as Horner told Gotham Gazette: “At state level, there are a lot of stipends being divied out, many for positions for which there's not obvious work being done. The stipends are increasingly being used as a way to reward loyalty and seniority and are less about the workload. We don’t object to a stipend being offered if somebody has to do real additional work, but we think there should be a limit on it.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Professor Benjamin told Gotham Gazette, “Regarding additional compensation, lulus in Albany, I think that this process grew up to compensate leaders in part to make salary adjustments. So, in a small body like the Senate you can give every committee chair something more. In the Assembly, you can reward a lot of people, but not all people. There should be some increment of compensation for leadership positions, but I prefer to have salary equity and less in the way of special payments, with periodic salary adjustments, which would be fair and better.”</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Next Steps</strong><br />Blair Horner, of NYPIRG, told Gotham Gazette that pegging salaries to cost-of-living changes could “unnecessarily exacerbate public citizens. They don’t get to choose if their salaries go up and down. And if what they see in their lives is that their salaries are stagnant but elected officials are going up, they’re going to resent that. It's hard to do that because it's a politically charged topic. If you’re going to make changes, it needs to be done in a delicate matter. One way to do that is to maximize independence of who makes the call and focus on publicly defensible metrics.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Professor Benjamin, who is also currently part of a compensation commission in Ulster County, expressed a similar point of view: “I think having a commission is a good idea.” Benjamin believes, though, that it is important that “sometimes the commission says ‘we won’t increase the pay.’ In my current commission in Ulster County, because the positions are part-time, I advocated for the legislature giving up its health insurance coverage for a significant salary increase. And the effect of that was to link the consideration to the total compensation package.”</p> <p dir="ltr">“Simple constitutionality requires that policy-makers make the decision about things that government spends, and one of the things that government spends is on their salaries,” Benjamin added.</p> <p dir="ltr">This year’s New York City advisory commission will report back with its recommendations in November. While it’s clear that the compensation levels of elected officials need to be reviewed from time to time, the announcement of a review commission is generally seen as unfavorable – in this case prompting the New York Post to print <a href="http://nypost.com/2015/09/19/de-blasio-moves-to-give-himself-and-others-at-city-hall-a-raise/" target="_blank">a headline</a> declaring, “Bill de Blasio moves to give himself a raise.”</p> <p dir="ltr">***<br />by Meg O'Connor, Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/megoconnor13" target="_blank">@MegOconnor13</a><br /><a href="https://twitter.com/GothamGazette" target="_blank">@GothamGazette</a></p>