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As commission ponders legislator pay raises, opinions differ between upstate and downstate

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Heastie photo courtesy Twitter; Ryan photo WBFO File/Chris Caya
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The panel formed to consider proposed pay raises for New York State legislators has until mid November to submit its recommendation. There are differences in opinion among lawmakers, downstate and upstate, whether they need to earn larger checks.

State lawmakers currently earn $79,500 per year. The commission now pondering a pay raise for lawmakers is said to be considering a 47 percent increase, which would raise legislator salaries to nearly $119,000 annually.

The panel, which previously recommended a $29,000 increase in annual pay for judges, has until November 15 to decide on legislators' pay.

The state constitution requires lawmakers earn the same wage. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie is among the downstate lawmakers hoping for a raise. A Bronx native, Heastie points to a higher cost of living in that part of New York State.

"When the salary was 79-thousand five-hundred, that purchasing power has now been reduced to 53-thousand dollars," said Heastie during a visit to Buffalo late last week. "Legislators have children that they need to help go to college. They have real lives."

Some of Heastie's peers, though, are satisfied with what they're earning now. Buffalo-based Assemblyman Sean Ryan is among those not supporting a raise. However, he appreciates why his downstate colleagues want one.

"We happen to be attached to a state that has one of the highest costs of living in only a part of the state," said Ryan. "That's why it's been an issue that's been struggled with for 19 years and there's been no changes made."

Some argue that allowing the salary increase might motivate lawmakers to agree to reforms. Ryan does not want one to become a condition for the other.

"That's not the path we want to go down," he said. "We've been talking about ethics reform for the last three years now. We keep making baby steps towards it but the big steps we have to take are to limit outside income, and we need to reduce the amount of money you are allowed to give to a candidate."

Heastie suggested that if salaries are not adjusted for current cost of living, many good candidates may choose to decline running for office.

"If you don't have requisite pay, you're going to really shrink the talent pool where you're probably only going to have the very wealthiest of New Yorkers to run for public office," Heastie said.

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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