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NY Politics
Cuomo: Pass Ethics Bill or No Raises
From the Wall Street Journal of Wed, 17 Dec 2014 21:06:36 EST
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, shown in a file photo.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, shown in a file photo. European Pressphoto Agency

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo gave legislators who want a pay raise an ultimatum Wednesday: Agree to ethics reforms, or it isn’t happening.

Mr. Cuomo, stung over allegations he interfered with an ethics commission’s work before disbanding it, has pushed the Legislature to sign tough ethics changes in exchange for a raise.

On Wednesday, Mr. Cuomo said the discussions weren’t going well and that a raise didn’t look likely.

“If you really, really want a pay raise, maybe you’ll say yes,” Mr. Cuomo said of his demands, which include capping legislators’ outside income, ending limited liability corporation accounts that allow a business to give unlimited donations and curbing per diem spending.

Some legislators, who haven’t had a pay raise since 1999, say that the current pay of $79,500 a year for the part-time job isn’t enough to live in New York state. They say that members of many other bodies, including the New York City Council, earn more.

Mr. Cuomo has said Albany, which has been rocked by arrests of legislators on corruption charges, needs to be reined in.

Some legislators and experts questioned whether Mr. Cuomo wanted an ethics deal—or wanted an excuse to thwart a pay raise, which could be politically challenging.

“He faces the particular political circumstance of having been roundly and effectively criticized for the way he intervened in independent commissions that were supposed to improve ethics,” said Gerald Benjamin, a political scientist at the State University of New York at New Paltz “The question is, in Cuomo’s hierarchy of values, where is reform in relation to other goals?”

Dani Lever, a spokeswoman for the governor, said Mr. Cuomo had accomplished more ethics reforms than previous governors and his negotiation efforts were serious and genuine.

A senior administration official said some of Mr. Cuomo’s wishes include limiting legislators’ outside pay to twice what they earn in the Legislature and slashing the number of days they can collect per diem. Some lawmakers earn far more and don’t have to disclose where all of the money comes from.

Mr. Cuomo’s proposals would also bar legislators from making money from companies doing business with the state, this person said. The official declined to say what level of a raise Mr. Cuomo would support, adding legislators hadn’t given a firm amount of what they wanted.

Many are weary of the LLC loophole. Mr. Cuomo used LLCs to get donations, but the official said the administration would follow a new law if it passes.

People familiar with the discussions said legislators had agreed to some of the proposals.

“The speaker has been very clear that he thinks members deserve a raise. We have already passed campaign finance reform, public financing, and closed the LLC loophole,” said Michael Whyland, a spokesman for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver .

Some lawmakers said they didn’t think salary should be linked to political negotiations.

“It’s coercive to use a pay raise to get legislators to vote for something they may not be for,” said Democratic Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal of Manhattan.

—Mike Vilensky
contributed to this article.

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