Passing the buck is no way to enact a pay hike

Passing the buck is no way to enact a pay hike

A special committee to weigh salary hikes for members of the Legislature, statewide elected officials and state agency heads was born Friday when Gov. Cuomo signed the state budget, into which the panel was tucked at the last minute.

Too bad that the committee, by its makeup, is a violation of the state Constitution. That’s what happens when something is done slap-dash, in the typical Albany style.

The fatal infirmity has Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, head of the state’s highest court, on the committee, joining state Controller Tom DiNapoli, city Controller Scott Stringer and former state and city Controllers Carl McCall and Billy Thompson.

They are all honorable folks. But the law is the law, as a judge who interprets it — and legislators who write it — ought to know.

The state Constitution’s Judiciary Article, section 20, subsection b, paragraph 1 says that “a judge may not hold any other public office or trust except an office in relation to the administration of the courts.” So DiFiore can’t be on the panel.

There are also legitimate questions about whether DiNapoli can serve, since the committee will decide the state controller’s salary, which means he would set his own pay level.

Lawmakers would have realized these problems if they had bothered to ask the five people in advance. Instead the appointments were a surprise. But the joke’s on the Legislature.

There’s not even a need for a special committee. The Legislature needs a raise; the current $79,500 salary was set in 1999. Since then, inflation has climbed 52%. A fair salary would be $120,800.

Why not pass it now and let it take effect on Jan. 1, with the new session?

Because the political chickens who rule the roost insist on handing if off to someone else.

Whoever does the deed, one thing is certain: The voters must see the new salaries before Election Day. Give pols a raise; then let the people, their board of directors, have the final say.

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