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Voters like lawmakers better, but still say no to pay raise

A new Siena College poll finds that New Yorkers are starting to feel more positive about the state legislature, but they still don’t want to see Senators and Assemblymembers receive a pay raise.

For the first time in many years, New Yorkers actually view the State Senate favorably, by a 46% to 43% margin,  and the State Assembly is close to evenly split, with 42% viewing them positively and 44% negatively.

Siena’s Steve Greenberg says that may not sound very like good news, but it’s up from a year ago, when less than one-third of voters held positive views about the legislature.  

“A year ago they were 26 points underwater,” said Greenberg.”

Greenberg says when respondents were asked about their own individual state legislator, though, they gave a more enthusiastic answer, with 65% saying they liked their own Senator or Assemblymember.

“Those are pretty good numbers,” Greenberg said.

Even though the public’s view of the legislature is rising, following two on time budgets in a row, and a lack of noticeable dysfunction that in the past earned the state legislature a bad reputation, most New Yorkers still don’t think lawmakers deserve a pay raise.  Greenberg says 65% of those surveyed oppose it.  

The poll question comes as the New York Post is reporting that if a legislative pay raise were to happen, it would need to be approved this year, because, the paper says, Governor Cuomo does not want to grant a salary increase too close to his own reelection in 2014.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver believes lawmakers should get  a pay raise. But he says no talks have taken place.

“I’ve been on the record very clearly, I think members deserve a pay raise,” said Silver, who says the last pay increase was approved in 1998.

“I think it would be appropriate,” said Silver. “But there’s been no conversations, no discussions about it.”

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos was not available to  speak about any potential pay raises, but a spokesman says the Senator’s position has not changed in recent weeks. When Skelos last spoke about it in late March, he said he does not thinking the timing is right, with the poor economic climate in New York and the nation, but he says he thinks lawmakers merit a raise.

“Do I feel legislators are adequately paid? No,” Skelos said. “But the circumstances now are that you just can’t do it.”  

Senator Skelos also denies that any preliminary talks on a pay raise have taken place.

Governor Cuomo has not ruled out a pay raise for lawmakers and has said that some in the executive branch are in need of salary hikes too. Cuomo has complained the relatively low pay rate for state commissioners has made it difficult for him to recruit top notch candidates for the posts.

If a pay raise were to be approved this year, it would not take effect until the new legislature is sworn in, in 2013.


Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. WBFO listeners are accustomed to hearing DeWitt’s insightful coverage throughout the day, including expanded reports on Morning Edition.