The release of financial disclosure forms for state lawmakers last week, which showed that many are earning six-figure salaries outside of their part-time legislative jobs, has reignited a debate over whether they should be full time, Gannett’s Albany Bureau reports. The forms, which were expanded under a new ethics law, required legislators to reveal their outside income for the first time.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, reported a salary of between $350,000 and $450,000 in 2012 from Weitz & Luxenberg, a Manhattan-based personal injury firm, on his financial disclosure form. Senate Co-Leader Dean Skelos, R-Nassau County, reported between $150,000 and $250,000 from a Long Island law firm, while fellow Co-Leader Jeff Klein, D-Bronx, earned between $57,001 and $106,000 as a partner in his own firm and as a lecturer at Mercy College.
Most lawmakers say they work full-time hours, or even more than full-time, to serve their constituents. Since they are in part-time positions, they can obtain outside employment. Roughly two-thirds of the 213-member Legislature earn outside income. The base salary is $79,500.
The National Conference of State Legislatures says New York lawmakers do enough work to be considered full time, based on issues like the length of the annual legislative session, compensation and the size of a lawmaker’s staff. But the constitution specifies that they are part time.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in April that the “number of potential conflicts goes way up” when there is a part-time Legislature. He has said that whether to change to a full-time Legislature is one of the “big questions” after a string of arrests of lawmakers on bribery charges this year.
“Now, a full-time Legislature is also problematic,” he continued. “We’re supposed to be a citizen Legislature. You have to pay (lawmakers) more. Some people think if they’re actually in Albany more, they’ll do more harm.”
Good-government advocates have lobbied for a full-time Legislature whose members would not be able to hold outside jobs. They are in favor of increasing the base salary for lawmakers.
Assemblyman Thomas Abinanti, D-Greenburgh, said he has to maintain a few legal clients on the side to supplement his income. Abinanti (pictured here) lives in one of New York’s more wealthy districts. While $150,000 may get you a house in some portions of upstate, Abinanti said, it would fetch a one-bedroom apartment in parts of New York City’s suburbs. He earned between $5,000 and $20,000 in additional income last year, according to his disclosure form.
“Being an assemblyman is a full-time job but does not pay a full-time salary,” Abinanti said. “So you’ve got to attempt to make a little money on the outside. I don’t make a lot, but it does give me an opportunity to have another office and get a little bit. ”