Raising Albany Reasonably

How would you like to earn $90,000 a year for 63 days of work, with terrific health insurance in which 90 percent of your premium is paid by someone else, and you get free dental in the bargain? What’s more, you’re free to have a second job, as an attorney or any other lucrative field you might choose.

New York’s state legislators, who enjoy the above package, feel they’re getting a raw deal, despite being the third-highest-paid legislators in the nation. In fact, they’d like raises of 22 percent, at a time when the state is facing a $4 billion-plus deficit—a deficit that is thanks in part to the legislators’ long-standing inability to control costs and cut pork-barrel spending.

That said, no one would begrudge the legislators a reasonable pay increase. Public servants deserve not only our respect, but also adequate compensation for a job that comes with its own set of stresses and challenges. And the legislators have not received a raise since 1999. But if pay raises should be based on one’s performance at work, many New Yorkers might understandably balk at rewarding our elected officials in Albany, given the dismal condition of the state’s economy and news reports of a shoddy political culture that permits state lawmakers to receive bonuses—aptly nicknamed “lulus”—for questionable leadership posts.

But the crucial issue here is timing. With the towering state deficit, and Governor Eliot Spitzer trying to recover from a disastrous political honeymoon, now is not the time for the legislators to vote themselves a massive raise. It is instead a time for restraint, consensus and the boring and necessary work of restoring the state’s fiscal solvency.