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Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward. (Photo by Mark Kurtz)
Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward. (Photo by Mark Kurtz)

Two thirds of New Yorkers don't want to give lawmakers a raise, poll finds

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Legislators haven't had a raise since 1999, and some, led by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, have said recently that it's about time.

But a new poll finds a majority of New Yorkers don't think giving the state's top politicians a pay raise is a good idea right now. Neither do some of the North Country's representatives at the Capitol. Martha Foley has more.

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Speaker Silver has suggested setting up a commission to consider raises.

 But  a new poll by Siena College finds voters are opposed to lawmaker pay raises by a two to one margin, 67% opposed and 31% in support. 

 Siena pollster Steve Greenberg says those surveyed like the idea of a pay hike for the governor and his top commissioners even less, with 74% against and 25% in favor. “Voters are even more opposed to an increase in the pay of the governor,” said Greenberg. “Or an increase for commissioners of state agencies.”

 Governor Cuomo has said he’s having trouble attracting top level commissioners because of the current pay strictures,  though the governor also says now is not the time for raises.

 State lawmakers from the North Country called the idea of increasing pay for Legislature members “laughable.”

Under the salaries set in 1999, each lawmaker gets a base salary of $79,500. Some receive additional stipends for leadership posts.

Assemblywoman Janet Duprey says there’s no way she would support raises for lawmakers, “Talk about timing being wrong,” she said. “I absolutely do not believe there should be a pay raise at this time. The governor just received concessions from CSEA (Civil Service Employees Association) and PEF (Public Employees Federation) workers and other unions, and some of them aren’t finalized yet, but we’re not giving any raises for years. It’s certainly not the time to step in and say we’re going to give legislators a raise.”

But Duprey did defend lawmakers from criticism that they only work when they’re in session. She says most of her colleagues put in countless hours in their home districts, meeting with community leaders, attending events and talking to constituents. Duprey says that for close to 50 percent of Assembly members, it’s a full-time job.

Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward also scoffs at the notion of raising pay for the Legislature. The Republican from Willsboro says the stipend is enough for lawmakers from rural districts.

But she admits it might fall short for those that live in metropolitan areas. She says $79,000 for a lawmaker in Manhattan, with a family to support, is practically bare bones. Still, she says, “Quite frankly, set that all aside, I don’t think we’ve earned it,” Sayward said. “Until last year and this year, I don’t feel like we have really been doing what needs to be done to get New York back on track. I think that the general public wouldn’t think that a year-and-a-half constitutes enough good faith effort that we should have a raise. I would vote against it.”

State Sen. Betty Little does not support raises either, according to her spokesman Dan Mac Entee.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has indicated he wouldn’t support raises now but believes they need to be addressed in the years to come.

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