The culmination of a handful of recent developments has led to high-level discussions between legislative leaders and Governor Andrew Cuomo about a possible special legislative session before the end of the year.
The major catalyst for the discussions was the decision by the recently created State Commission on Legislative, Judicial and Executive Compensation (the “Pay Commission”) to reject a proposed salary increase for lawmakers, which would have provided lawmakers their first pay increase since 1999. The gubernatorial commission appointees abstained from voting on the proposed salary increase, instead citing the need for significant structural reforms, like the creation of a full-time legislature.
Voting for pay raises can be politically tricky for legislators. Moreover, while New York law permits the state legislature to vote for its own pay raise, that pay raise cannot take effect until a successive legislative session. Given this, the State Legislature, together with the governor, passed a law in 2015 that created the Pay Commission. Under the law, if the Pay Commission had recommended a raise at their final meeting in November, it would have taken effect automatically on January 1, 2017, thus eliminating the need for the legislature to vote themselves a raise. The Pay Commission ceases to exist on December 31, 2017. By rejecting the pay raise, however, the Pay Commission put the raise issue back to the legislature. Many members of the legislature have been seeking a pay raise and were depending upon the Commission’s approval of such a raise.
The Governor has subsequently defended his appointees’ decision and urged lawmakers to return to Albany to deal with outstanding issues – in particular, ethics reform, a housing subsidy, and the finalization of an agreement to release $2 billion in affordable housing funds. The special session would also provide lawmakers the opportunity to re-authorize the commission, whose appointees have stated that they would approve a modest increase in the context of a special legislative session, despite their previous rejection the proposal.
Legislative leaders, in particular Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, have been less than receptive to the governor’s tactics. In a strange series of events last week, Speaker Heastie took to Twitter to flatly reject statements from the Governor’s office regarding special session negotiations, stating “[t]here is no truth to the article claiming we are discussing term limits or constitutional amendments in exchange for a pay raise.” The Assembly Democratic conference held a lengthy meeting in Albany on Monday, December 5 to discuss the developments and proposals surrounding the special session. Speaker Heastie reiterated after the meeting that he was unsure whether a special would take place, and also rejected the idea of the legislature passing a pay hike on their own, and potentially overriding any veto from the governor.
We expect closed-door talks to continue between legislative leaders and the governor, and as is often the case in Albany, agreements can coalesce quickly. The New York public policy team will be providing updates as they develop.