By Adam Andrzejewski
With a $225,000 salary, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is the country’s highest paid governor. The next highest paid is California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who made $202,000 last year.
An appointed state panel gave the legislature and governor pay raises in 2018, and Cuomo was scheduled to make $250,000 in 2021 before he opted not to take the $25,000 pay raise.
He did, however, ask Congress for a bailout funded by the American taxpayers. In the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act passed in March, New York received $23.5 billion—$6 billion more than Florida, which boasts more residents than New York.
That perceived victory has been somewhat marred by Cuomo’s more recent scandals and legal woes.
For example, Cuomo collected $4 million for his book detailing his graceful leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the New York Attorney General is investigating allegations that staff may have helped write the book, which possibly violated statutes prohibiting the use of public resources for personal gain.
Cuomo is fighting sexual harassment allegations from up to nine women. Independent investigators hired by the attorney general’s office are probing the claims.
Federal and state investigators are also looking into Cuomo’s executive order to transfer Covid-19-positive seniors from hospitals to nursing homes last spring. Up to 15,000 seniors died of the virus in the nursing homes. Allegations center on potentially misleading the public about how many nursing home-based seniors died from Covid-19 and other issues.
Andrew Cuomo and the state of New York have many problems, nearly all of which are of their own making. None of those problems, however, dissuaded the governor from securing lucrative pay packages and becoming the most highly compensated governor in the history of the country.
Here’s the background on Cuomo’s pay hikes:
In 2018, the New York State Commission on Legislative, Judicial, & Executive Compensation gave the legislature and the governor generous pay hikes.
At the time, Cuomo earned a salary of $179,000 and state lawmakers made $79,500.
Cuomo’s salary increased to $200,000 in 2019, $225,000 in 2020, and was scheduled to increase to $250,000 in 2021. However, in November 2020, Cuomo deferred the latest raise, keeping his salary at $225,000. It’s still the highest in the nation.
When deferring his $25,000 pay raise, Cuomo called on Lieutenant Gov. Kathy Hochul, Attorney General Letitia James, and Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, all Democrats, to forgo their scheduled $10,000 raises in 2021.
The three agreed, keeping their $210,000 salary instead of taking home $220,000. Those three statewide elected officials also out-earn every governor in the 49 other states.
Cuomo and the other state officials did not say how long they planned to defer their pay hikes. Economic models predict that recovery will take several years and must overcome a $59 billion budget shortfall through 2022.
But critics questioned the timing of Cuomo’s generous deferral. The state compensation commission had already recommended delaying pay raises for state judges, legislators, and executive branch members for the next four years.
Only the comptroller’s office responded to our request for comment but did not offer a timeline: “State Comptroller DiNapoli did not take the scheduled pay raise. No decision has been made if and when that will change.”
The delayed pay raises for New York’s most powerful politicians aren’t exactly profiles in courage. In 2020. COVID-19 cost the state 1 million jobs or 10 percent of the workforce.
There were 4.6 million New Yorkers who claimed unemployment from mid-March 2020 to Dec. 26, 2020. That’s up from the 677,575 people who filed claims from mid-March 2019 to the start of January 2020, according to the NYS Department of Labor.
When awarding raises for lawmakers, the commission in 2018 stipulated that the raise would limit outside income to no more than 15 percent of their legislative salary.
However, a New York judge ruled that limiting outside pay wasn’t in the commission’s power and blocked that stipulation.
Lawmakers were scheduled to get their first pay raises in 20 years in three phases—from $79,900 in 2018 to $110,000 in January 2019, $120,000 in January 2020, and $130,000 in January 2021. But the pay was frozen at $110,000 once the outside pay provision was struck down.
The pay freeze hasn’t stopped lawmakers from legal double dipping.
At least 21 state lawmakers were elected, retired, and then got re-elected, utilizing a double-dipping loophole to collect a pension while collecting a state salary.
Assembly members Peter Abbate Jr. of Brooklyn and Deborah Glick of Manhattan, both Democrats, filed for their pensions as they got seated for another term in the legislature, collecting an estimated $57,000 pension each on top of their $110,000 legislative salaries.
Assemblyman Fred Thiele, a Long Island member of the Independence Party, will collect an estimated $70,000 pension on top of his $100,000 lawmaker pay.
Former state Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Morelle (D) retired and then was elected to Congress, allowing him to collect an estimated $80,000 annual state pension along with his $174,000-a-year congressional salary.
Legal pay-to-play is also alive and well in New York.
Our auditors at OpenTheBooks.com found Cuomo’s campaign coffers full of cash from state contractors, as 347 state vendors gave $6.2 million in political donations to Cuomo between 2014 and 2019 and reaped $7 billion in state payments.
Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi said, “No contribution of any size plays a role in any official action and any official who can be swayed by a single dollar has no business being in government.”
However, every Cuomo campaign donation from a vendor with business before the state is a potential conflict of interest and raises troubling ethical questions.
Cuomo’s record-setting salary is only the tip of the iceberg. New York has systemic issues of public corruption, high taxes, public debt, and bloated government. If political leaders can’t solve them, then New York might just become the Illinois of the East.