Newly-minted Democratic state senators Jen Metzger of Rosendale and James Skoufis of Woodbury have been taking heat lately, not for the mostly progressive legislation they’ve voted for, but for not voting at all in one important instance.
At issue is the freshmen senators ducking out on a vote to increase Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s annual salary from $179,000 to $210,000 during last month’s budget process. The Times-Herald Record chastised the duo’s fleeing their chamber as the Cuomo vote was being taken, on video, no less. The editorial noted that the senators, despite positive fodder from media on almost on a daily basis, had been dodging questions on that particular subject.
It’s all water under the bridge at this point. Nonetheless, some explanation is in order.
I had been under the mistaken impression that salary issues involving the governor, legislature and senior department staff had been addressed by a special pay-raise commission that reported out after last year’s elections. Under their recommendations, the governor and legislators were due raises of $31,000, $20,000 and $10,000 over three years, beginning in January. Also included were department heads and senior staff, causing something of a stampede to Albany. The salary of former Ulster County executive Mike Hein as commissioner of a state department, for instance, will jump from $190,000 to $220,000. Hein was getting by with $133,000 as county exec. Other locals have also expressed interest in those high-paying jobs, though there is no truth to the notion that Trailways will soon be running a daily bus from Kingston to Albany to accommodate the traffic.
As it turns out, the commission’s recommendations on legislative salaries and others, became law when the legislature declined to decline its pay raise. Would you reject a 40 percent raise? As clever, self-serving ploys go, that was one for the ages.
The governor’s salary situation was different. Under the state constitution, the salaries of state-wide elected officers can only be raised by votes in both houses of the legislature. Enter, or in this case, exit, Metzger and Skoufis.
Caught between rocks and hard places – the legislature’s general aversion to Cuomo and the governor’s reputation for swift and unrelenting vengeance – they took a walk. OK, this time, but what about the next controversial subject? Will these footloose freshmen stand up and be counted or will they fly?
Potential opponents will be watching. Very carefully.
Footnote: Assemblyman Kevin Cahill of Kingston, no great admirer of the chief executive, voted, as did the vast majority of legislators. With no reference to his Democratic colleagues in the senate (he is a huge fan of both), Cahill declared, “I do not duck. I did not duck. I voted no.”
Didn’t former county legislature chairman Dave Donaldson once accuse Cahill of “waffling” on a major issue? Like I said, water under the bridge.