Nod and a Wink on Pay Raises

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By Alan Chartock Cuomo will horse trade with legislators Like most of us, politicians prefer to avoid pain-they'd much prefer to take the easy route than tackle the tough issues. Here are a couple of examples. The Legislature has gone along with Gov. Andrew Cuomo's tough fiscal regimen on its agencies and citizens. Tax caps, the lack of a hike in the minimum wage and finger-wagging at teachers all come out of what is known as "The Second Floor," Cuomo's office. The hypocrisy comes in when, during the lame duck session that follows an election before the new Legislature is sworn in, they raise their own pay. They do this because they desperately want the money but also know that people who have been hurt by governmental austerity are deeply resentful when the government types raise their own pay. The solons have to do this in two separate sessions. Of course, they could do it the honorable way-vote the pay raises in and then suffer the consequences with the voters-but they are loath to do that. I suspect that if you were a legislator, you might opt for the less painful way yourself. Aw, come on, of course you would. Naturally, the governor (with his 70 percent approval rating) has to sign the pay raise bill. That's where the trading comes in. If they want the raise, they'll have to give him something significant in return. It's the American way, you know. Governors have been doing this for years. If there is one thing that Cuomo now understands, it is that the people will not hold him responsible. After all, he campaigned on the platform that he would not allow the majority parties in the Legislature to follow the despicable process of drawing districts where they had the best chance of winning. When he broke his word, no one seemed to care. They gave him credit for cleaning up Albany. I suspect this pay raise business will follow the same sort of track. Not only that, my bet is that Cuomo will either not accept a raise for himself (he's got plenty of money) or announce that he will give it to charities of his choice. After all, he's running for president. You can see another example of pain avoidance in the massive toll hike that has been proposed for the New York Thruway. That road is already one of the most expensive in the nation when it comes to making truckers pay. That, of course, is the point. The Thruway authoritarians, who have been severely criticized for sloppy work by uncompromising State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, know that many of the truckers who use the Thruway are out-of-staters. Of course, out-of-state folks don't vote in New York, so the idea is to soak them. The politicians probably figure that the truckers will just raise their rates and we'll all end up paying more at Walmart and the grocery store to offset the increased trucking costs. When you raise tolls on commuters, however, you do so at your own risk. When you give this kind of power to so-called "independent" authorities, politicians are shielded from having to accept the political responsibility. The governor has declined to say much about the toll hikes on the Thruway except to suggest that if the hikes are needed, they are needed. Anyone who thinks that even the isolated members of the Thruway Authority would proceed with the draconian hikes without a wink or a nod from the governor's office must live on another planet. Just sayin'. These politicians are really pretty clever. The last thing you want to do is to bear any pain. Rule No. 1 for politicians has always been "Get re-elected." Rule No. 2 is also familiar: "Never forget rule No. 1." Alan S. Chartock is president and CEO of WAMC/Northeast Public Radio and an executive publisher at The Legislative Gazette.

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