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January 4, 2014

Don't restrict outside income of legislators

The Daily Star

---- — New York’s state legislators get a lot of criticism — almost all of it richly deserved — but a new bill that would restrict their earnings is just a bad idea.

On Monday, the New York Daily News reported that state Sen. Brad Hoylman, D-Manhattan, has introduced legislation that would prevent lawmakers from having outside employment.

We have had a lot of fun over the years recounting the foibles of New York’s Assembly and Senate. All the missed budget deadlines (although the Legislature has been much better about making them recently), all the wasted spending, all the political impotence of the average senator or assemblyman because of the state’s “three men in a room” form of governance have provided ample fodder for critics.

And yes, the base salary of $79,500 is higher than what most of their constituents bring home. Those in leadership positions in Albany make considerably more. On top of that, it’s a part-time rather than a full-time gig.

So, sure, it would feel good to tell them that they can’t be earning more dough than what the state pays them.

But consider that those who are not able to commute to and from the state capital have to have two residences, with all the expenses associated with that.

Your average assemblyman or senator also spends a lot of time driving to and attending civic events when the Legislature is not in session. Sure, many do it to get re-elected, but all those chicken dinners in which a politician might be giving out a scroll with a bunch of “therefores” and “where as-es” can get awfully time-consuming. 

The newspaper cited a report by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s anti-corruption commission that found that 89 of the 174 legislators who served in 2012 and returned in 2013 reported at least one source of outside income, with 73 percent earning at least $20,000.

But most of them are not nearly as wealthy as Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who reported making as much as $450,000 from his law firm, and Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos, who made up to $250,000 from his law office.

Hoylman is right to be concerned about outside income possibly leading to conflicts of interests or serious corruption. Anyone being paid by the public owes it to the people to put their interests first.

But if outside income is prevented, soon only the very wealthy will be able to afford to serve in the Legislature, and that would be a very sad thing, indeed.

By all means, we need to keep a close eye on possible corruption. But there are better ways to do that than to make the Legislature a place reserved only for the very rich.