Common Cause/NY to NY Leg: "Half Your Pay For Half Your Job"
New Yorkers shouldn't have to pay lawmakers' full salary for a 90% drop in productivity
NEW YORK, NY (05/19/2020) (readMedia)-- Today, Common Cause/NY called on New York State lawmakers to forgo half of their salary in exchange for doing half their job. Lawmakers have not voted on a single piece of legislation since passing the budget the first week of April. Assemblymembers and Senators have instead retreated to their districts to handle constituent services full time despite the job description as clearly stated on the Senate's website: "The legislature's primary purpose is to draft and approve changes to the laws of New York." Meanwhile, the New York City Council has held 20 hearings and passed 5 bills since going remote three and a half weeks ago. In contrast, the legislature has held 2 hearings in 7 weeks.
"Why should New Yorkers pay lawmakers $110,000 -- in the middle of a budget deficit -- to do only half their jobs? Voters elect our representatives to legislate for six months out of the year and handle constituent services, not one or the other. If they are so intent on shirking their responsibilities and not resuming session remotely, then their paycheck should reflect that," said Susan Lerner, Executive Director of Common Cause/NY.
Common Cause/NY has long advocated for New York lawmakers to receive a pay raise, making them one of the highest paid legislatures in the country. Last year, the legislature passed 935 bills, but only 100 this year: a 90% drop in productivity.
In the last two months, Common Cause/NY has held numerous virtual press conferences with lawmakers, candidates, advocacy groups, service providers, and tech experts on the need and ability for the legislature to continue functioning as a co-equal branch of government. The Albany Times Union, the New York Times, the Buffalo News, and Daily Gazette have all published editorials urging New York state lawmakers to step up and continue to legislate remotely post-budget.
In response, legislative leaders have offered numerous excuses for their inaction, refusing to commit publicly to a clear timeline for returning to session remotely, and failing to announce any accommodations for remote legislating. Both Speaker Carl Heastie and Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins have mentioned they'll get to legislating eventually. Speaker Heastie commented earlier this month: "I know people seem to be a little frustrated, but it's kind of like we're circling the airport till they tell us it's safe to land."
Ten years ago the NYS Senate overhauled its technology systems to better allow legislators to work remotely-- implementing webmail, supporting smartphones and tablets for the first time, installing secure WiFi routers in District Offices, and modernizing many of the institution's legislative and constituent data and workflow management software applications so that they could be accessed outside of Albany, and publishing all of the Senate's spending and voting data on the Web. Part of the motivation at that time was to ensure that lawmakers-- and their constituents-- didn't need to be in Albany to know what was going on in Albany.
As a result, the NYS Senate is already well equipped to operate remotely, with full support for mobile devices and the ability to access and operate key information publishing, legislative research information and constituent service software applications from any web browser.