Here’s a bump in the road for the scheme to make New York’s legislators the highest-paid in the nation: The Albany-based Government Justice Center is filing suit to have the whole thing tossed out as flagrantly violating the state Constitution.
The center filed on behalf of four pro bono clients: Assemblyman Michael Fitzpatrick (R-Suffolk) plus two taxpayers from Saratoga County and one from The Bronx.
One reason the state Committee on Legislative and Executive Compensation was unconstitutional, the brief argues: The Legislature can’t delegate such powers to outsiders.
On top of that, the commission grossly exceeded the powers granted it, both by eliminating special added pay (“lulus”) for most committee leaders, and by limiting lawmakers’ outside income.
Indeed, commissioners explicitly talked of changing service in the Legislature from a part-time to a full-time job — a change rising to the level of a constitutional amendment.
Above all else, the scheme clearly aimed to end-run the Constitution, which requires an election to intervene between the Legislature’s passage of a pay hike for its members, and that increase taking effect: Though created in March, the committee didn’t meet until December, well after Election Day, and then rushed to its recommendations.
We’d love to see the commissioners explain under oath exactly how they settled on that schedule. And why they opted to hold key discussions in private, in clear defiance of the Open Meetings law.
The center’s executive director, Cameron Macdonald, aims to file for an immediate preliminary injunction to prevent the pay hikes from going into effect come Jan. 1. On its face, the center’s case is strong enough to require a hearing on that motion — and a grant of the injunction, if not immediate summary judgment striking down the entire thing.
Some might worry that this is the best chance New York has to get reforms such as that outside-income limit, but legislators are already talking openly of “fixing” such “flaws” in the commission’s package.
If the courts don’t act, lawmakers are all too likely to wind up with the entire 64 percent pay hike — with none of the strings attached.
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