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Saturday, February 6, 2016

New York City Council Members Want a $36,000 Raise, So They Vote and Give Themselves The Money

That is an easy way to scam the public.

Good job, City Council!

Betsy Combier
Editor, National Public Voice
Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito

Crain's Business EDITORIAL

Council's tortured pay-raise saga shows members still don't get it

FEBRUARY 5, 2016

The city’s process for raising elected officials’ pay involves recommendations from an independent commission. And for good reason: so the public can trust that the pay raise is warranted. Yet City Council members declared that they deserved a salary well above what the commission proposed: $148,500 instead of $138,315. And that only they should get more than was suggested—not the mayor, comptroller, public advocate, borough presidents or district attorneys.
On Friday, council members voted 40 to 7 to give themselves that hefty $36,000 raise. If their goal was to increase cynicism, they did a bang-up job. But they weren’t done. Their self-serving justifications and hurried vote only made matters worse. The members tried to sell their disingenuous move by packaging it with reforms sought by good-government groups. The reforms increase transparency, limit members’ outside income and—ironically—preclude future councils from raising their own pay, as this council is doing. The council should be willing to pass reforms without the quid pro quo of a pay raise. After all, improving the government is their job, not something that merits a permanent annual bonus.
One of the reforms—elimination of the stipends that members receive for holding "leadership positions" and for chairing committees, subcommittees and task forces—is being oversold. Members say this will reduce the council speaker’s power over them, as she is the one who hands out their titles (which are held by an absurd 46 of the 51 members and boost their $112,500 salaries by an average of 10%). But members treasure these appointments for many reasons besides the money. They love the titles, the power to steer legislation and hold hearings, the media opportunities and the fundraising advantage.
When a member chairs the Land Use Committee, for example, real estate interests shower him with donations without even being asked. Members say preventing them from having second jobs will deter corruption. That’s true in Albany, where legislators have a light work schedule, a low base salary and usually another job. But corruption, thankfully, is less of an issue in the council, where members already make a decent living.
Banning outside income is a solution in search of a problem. Few council members even have a second job. To cap off this escapade, the council rushed the legislation through, scheduling a rare Friday vote even though the pay increase is retroactive to Jan. 1. The only point of hurrying was to limit the chance for criticism. Accepting the commission’s recommended raise, which outpaced inflation, would have conveyed that elected officials are not their own bosses. In giving themselves an increase of their choosing, council members strengthened the case against one. – THE EDITORS
A version of this article appears in the February 8, 2016, print issue of Crain's New York Business.