“We must realize that a part-time legislature in Albany simply has not worked, will never work and, it in fact, enabled corruption,” Samuels says. “To compliment Campaign Finance Reform and begin to restore trust and bring professionalism to Albany, we must take the equally important step to fulfill the century-old FDR ideal and make the legislature a full-time endeavor with outside income restrictions.”
The verdict on Albany’s part-time legislature is in.
After decades of corruption, including the recent indictments of State Senator Malcolm Smith and Assemblyman Eric Stevenson, added to a list of more than 25 lawmakers over the last decade who have engaged in ethical or criminal misconduct, it is clear that a part-time legislature does not work. And never has. That is why Governor Cuomo and the legislature, in addition to passing major Campaign Finance Reform must make the legislature full-time to further reform the system and help restore trust among the voters.
Today Bill Samuels, founder of the reform Albany organization New Roosevelt and co-founder of Effective NY, unveiled his plan for a Dedicated Legislature—a blueprint for how Governor Cuomo and the legislature can seize the initiative and make lawmakers duties, full-time with restrictions on outside income that mirrors the congressional rules and a salary adjusted for inflation that is slightly higher than that of current New York City Council members.
The trade off?
New lawmakers would agree to forego any outside income and existing legislators would be able to opt-in to the system or opt-out and maintain their part-time status and salary for up to three terms.
The Samuels Dedicated Legislature plan is designed to achieve two goals: Act as a deterrent to lawmakers who feel the personal financial pressures to trade on their position and second, to bring a new professionalism needed to the job by attracting a new generation of political aspirants, who don’t have law practices or business consulting firms.
The original idea for a full-time legislature goes back about 100 years, to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who as a young New York politician, pledged to make the legislature his full-time job and not to become beholden to special interests.
As FDR said in a 1910 speech at Hudson upon being elected to the State Senate, “…I want to represent you, the people of these counties and no one else… I want to stay on the job representing you twelve months a year.”
“Enough is enough,” said Samuels. “It is abundantly clear that a part-time legislature has not worked. We have to boldly rethink how we compensate lawmakers as well as attract the level of professionalism needed for the job and recruit the best and brightest minds in the state to serve in the legislature. By creating a dedicated and full-time legislature, with outside income restrictions similar to Congress and a salary on par with their downstate New York City Council member colleagues, we can start to turn the tide against the continued drumbeat of scandal and corruption plaguing Albany. We can also usher in and inspire a new generation of young people to serve in Albany.”
In brief, the Samuels plan would:
Limit Outside Income for Legislators
All newly elected state legislators should commit to follow the same rules that apply to their counterparts in the United States Congress by limiting outside income. An exception would be made for incumbents who choose to maintain their current salary for a maximum of three more terms, but without a pay increase.
Automatically Adjust Salaries by Commission or Index
New full-time legislators would receive a salary of $125,000 based upon inflation adjustment and pegged at slightly higher than the current pay for New York City Council members.
New salaries and adjustments for inflation could be determined by an independent commission convened at regular intervals, similar to the Special Commission on Judicial Compensation that meets every four years. This commission would be charged with examining, evaluating, and making binding recommendations in regards to legislative pay.
In fact, Albany legislators have not received a salary increase in 14 years. If their salaries were being adjusted for inflation, today Albany legislators would be paid about $110,000 a year.
Salaries for State Elected Officials to Be Comparable to New York City Counterparts
Currently, New York City elected officials earn higher salaries than State legislators This discourages many qualified candidates from seeking state office, further evidenced by State Senate and Assembly members who run for “lower office.” The Samuels plan provides raises to New York statewide elected officials to be commensurate with their municipal counterparts in New York City as well as adjusted for inflation and cost of living concerns.
The issue and need of an outside income plagues lawmakers in both the Senate and the Assembly. In the previous legislature, four legislators led their parties in their respective houses and all but one of the legislators was on the payroll of a law firm that represents a special interest. Andrea Stewart-Cousins, replacing John Sampson as Senate Minority Leader, brings the number to two.
However, the problem extends beyond leadership. As of 2010, 136 out of 212 legislators have an outside source of income.
And its effect on the legislature has been pernicious. Over the last decade more than the list of Albany lawmakers charged or convicted with ethical or criminal misconduct is astonishing: Espada, Naomi Rivera, Carl Kruger, Gonzalez, Monserrate, Boyland, Norman, Cook, Clark, Peter Rivera, Karben, Semineiro, Green Johnson, Davis, Leibell, Bruno, Gordon, Cole, A. Smith, McLaughlin, Velella, Lopez, Huntley, and, as of earlier this month, Malcolm Smith and Eric Stevenson. Some of these lawmakers have held major leadership positions or been instrumental towards contributing to the record of chaos and gridlock in Albany.
The facts are simple: a part-time legislature cannot work and never will. Until the Governor and the leadership makes the bold step to create a full-time legislature in Albany, with appropriate restrictions on outside income and a salary on par with the NYC City Council, the list of corrupt lawmakers will continue to grow as the public’s view of their reputation further diminishes.