In New York City, the median household income is $52,259, a number that has barely risen since the economic crisis began in 2008. The average New Yorker currently makes just $32,000. A New York cop makes $76,600 after five years on the job, while a New York public school teacher makes somewhere between $50,812 and $63,534. Meanwhile, New York City's $110 billion debt burden is on track to increase by $30 billion thanks to Mayor de Blasio's capital plan. So you could understand why members of New York's City Council would want to keep their plan to raise their own salary to $192,500 secret.
Councilmembers currently make $112,500 as a base salary, before factoring in bonuses, called lulus, for chairing Council committees and income from outside jobs. Lulu stipends can be as much as $25,000. The members' last raise was in 2006, and back then former mayor Michael Bloomberg and good-government groups unsuccessfully argued for banning outside employment for the members. Now, according to an anonymously sourced Daily News report, councilmembers are plotting to agree to such a ban and an end to so-called lulu stipends. In exchange, they reportedly want a 71 percent raise. The salary they are asking for is surpassed by just 12 percent of households in the city.
Good-government advocates generally agree that New York politicians could use raises, particularly at the state level, where legislators make $79,500 on the books. Higher pay and bans on outside jobs, the thinking goes, could deter corruption. Claims that supposed law-firm work was actually extortion and influence peddling is at the heart of the federal corruption cases against former Assembly speaker Sheldon Silver and former Senate majority leader Dean Skelos. Ethically challenged former Council Ethics Committee chairwoman Inez Dickens, among city government's top-earning moonlighters, has made headlines for atrocious conditions and unpaid fines at apartment buildings she co-owns with her sister in Harlem. Dickens, like Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (also a landlord), has been accused of failing to report rental income.
As Gotham Gazette noted in a recent article, New York mayors are generally reluctant to impanel the independent commission that decides raises for city lawmakers, because it pisses off voters. When De Blasio convened the panel in September, he made clear that he won't seek a raise for himself this term. However, the size of the ask reportedly planned by the Council is flabbergasting, as evidenced by a News reporter's call to Citizens Union head Dick Dadey.
Dadey "nearly dropped his phone when The News called him for comment," according to the tabloid.
"What?" he said.
Eventually, he called the proposed raise an "overreach," and said, "They should not be paid more than the governor." Gov. Cuomo makes $179,000. Members of Congress and the U.S. Senate make $174,000.
Asked by reporters today what she thought of the proposed raise, Mark-Viverito told reporters, "It definitely is a ridiculous amount." Still, she said, a raise is "overdue" and should not be held up next to police officers' just-announced 1 percent raise per year.
"It’s a totally different process, and I think that they need to be separated," she said.