It's typical, and sadly, it shows just how cynical our lawmakers in Albany have become.
This past week, all of them safely elected or, more to the point, re-elected, our representative in both the New York State Senate and the Assembly voted themselves a big, fat, 38 percent pay raise.
It's amazing, the moxy these men and women, of both political parties, have shown this week. All that stands in the way of these raises taking affect is the absence of Governor George Pataki's signature -- and he's said he's willing to give it, if the legislature plays ball with him on a few of his own pet projects.
The raises, if they take affect, would make New York State lawmakers -- the governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and comptroller -- the second most highly paid legislators, as a group, in the entire nature.
Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver would become the highest paid state lawmakers in the country, pulling in $121,000 a year.
"As far as I can tell, these would be the first six-figure legislative salaries in the country," said Gary Ruskin, of the Washington, D.C.-based Congressional Accountabilities Project, which monitors public salaries.
"That is a disgraceful distinction for the state legislature," he continued.
In defending these raises, assembly and senate members both have pointed to salary parities with other professions. But is that really how salary is determined in this society? Do each of us have the liberty to say, "Well ,this guy makes X amount, so I should to." Even within our own professions?
Where I come from -- at least, philosophically -- a raise in pay is tied to two factors, the cost of living and job performance.
Has the cost of living gone up 38 percent recently? I don't think so. Nor do I think that our lawmakers should do anything that will draw attention to their often dismal job performance.
After all, with some minor changes, this is the same legislature that in recent years has found it almost impossible to perform their basic duties -- formulating a state budget by a specific date. Remember 1997? These individuals finally passed a budget four months late, adversely affecting a number of other entities that impact directly on out lives, such as our local school districts.
In fact, the biggest headlines the state legislature received in years came just this past spring, when they actually did get a budget hashed out in a reasonable amount of time.
In real life, actually doing your job competently is what gets you a pay check one week after the next. Most of us, if we didn't do our job in a timely fashion -- if, say, I decided not to put out a copy of this paper for a couple of weeks and its delivery to your door became unreliable -- would find ourselves out on the street.
That very essential fact of life doesn't seem to hold water in Albany.
What's more, how many of us -- excepting the self-employed, of course -- get to determine what our own raises, when they do occur, would be?
Though the ideal we hold fast to is that our lawmakers are elected to represent us, in many ways, the politicos now wag the proverbial public dog. Look at campaign financing. Look at electoral accountability. Look at any number of issues. And look at the Albany pay raise.
It's time to get back to what our representative form of government was supposed to be about in the first place. It's time to require that any legislative pay raise be put up for public referendum before it is adopted by our governing bodies. After all, these people supposedly work for us. Is re-electing them really a mandate for them to say, we not only approve of them, but that they deserve more money? I certainly don't think so.
This pay raise, sadly, is really nothing but an abuse of power. Sadly, our entire Long Island delegation of state senators voted for it.
Daniel J. McCue