Capitol Watch: Will Lawmakers Vote To Limit Outside Income?
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — In New York state government news, a plan to sharply limit how much money state lawmakers can make from side jobs could be heading to the Legislature for a vote after all.
A state pay commission recently approved the restriction on legislative moonlighting as part of a plan to raise lawmakers' salaries for the first time in 20 years.
But with questions about whether the commission had the constitutional authority to approve the restrictions, even supporters say a lawsuit is likely. Now, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and others say the Legislature should pass the measure to ensure it withstands any challenge.
Meanwhile, the state Senate's new Democratic leaders have announced the names of the lawmakers who will lead critically important committees once the legislative session begins next month.
Here's a look at stories making news:
OUTSIDE INCOME LIMITS:
The current policy allowing lawmakers to moonlight as they see fit has been seen as a conduit for payoffs from those with business before the state.
The restrictions approved this month by the pay commission would cap outside income at 15 percent of lawmakers' total salary. The commission tied the new limits, which would take effect in 2020, to a legislative pay hike that will take lawmakers' current $79,500 base salary to $130,000 over three years.
The pay commission was created to take the politically sensitive issue of compensation out of the Legislature's hands, but opponents of the pay increase and some lawmakers question whether the commission has the authority to effectively set state statute, prompting predictions of a legal challenge.
"This committee has significantly overstepped its authority by attempting to change the way the Legislature operates and functions," said Sen. John Flanagan of Long Island, the current leader of the Senate who stands to become the minority leader when Democrats formally take over the chamber next month.
Cuomo, who said he expects a legal challenge, said the Legislature can sidestep any lawsuit by simply approving the new restrictions on outside income themselves.
"If there's any question as to the commission's authority, it's very simple for them to remedy it, come back in January and pass a separate law," Cuomo said on New York City public radio.
Republicans have been the sharpest critics of proposals to restrict outside income, arguing that being a legislator is supposed to be a part-time job and that outside work provides a real-world perspective for lawmakers. Passage is likely to be a lot easier now that Democrats control both chambers of the Legislature. Senate Democrats note that they voted in favor of income restrictions when in the minority.
"I continue to support that legislation and expect to secure its passage in the upcoming legislative session," said Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the incoming Senate leader.
COMMITTEE CHAIRS SET: One of Stewart-Cousins' first tasks as the new leader of the Senate was picking the lawmakers to lead committees that oversee the state budget, education policy and other key governmental functions.
The list of committee chairs she released last week contained several notable selections.
Sen. Liz Krueger will lead the powerful budget-writing Finance Committee. The 16-year Senate veteran from Manhattan had been the ranking Democrat on the committee. Sen. Jamaal Bailey of the Bronx will captain the Codes Committee, which often signs off on critical legislation before it heads to the floor. And Sen. Shelley Meyer of Yonkers will serve as chairwoman of the Education Committee.
Sen. Tim Kennedy of Buffalo will lead the Transportation Committee, which is expected to play a big role in debates about fixing New York City's aging subways.
Several freshmen lawmakers elected last month will helm committees: Sen Jen Metzger of Ulster County will lead the Agriculture Committee, while Sen. Anna Kaplan of Long Island will chair the Commerce Committee and Sen. Alessandra Biaggi of the Bronx and Westchester County will take on the Ethics Committee.