Waste Watcher Report

By Kieran Lalor, on Feb 21, 2012

Dear Fellow Taxpayer:

I'm very proud that back when few in politics were talking seriously about cutting the size of government, the Poughkeepsie Journal editorial page stated that I was "definitely a straight-shooter" offering "a lot of common sense about the government's need to cut out waste, fraud and abuse."

This email is the first in an ongoing series of Waste Watcher Reports identifying waste, fraud and abuse in Albany and suggesting ways we can eliminate it in an effort to create jobs, cut taxes and reform Albany. 

Waste Watcher Report:  Stop The Stipend Madness
 

Albany legislators are in session less than 80 days per year but make a salary of $79,500.  In addition to a full time salary for part time work, more than 95% of legislators (202 out 212) get paid a "leadership" stipend of between $9,000 and $41,500.  Stipends are "earned" for chairing committees even if the committee only meets three or four times per year.  Moreover, the most senior member of the minority party on a committee is paid a stipend even if the position has no real power.  Some entirely partisan positions like Republican Conference Secretary and Democrat Majority Whip come with a taxpayer funded stipend.

In addition to the $2.5 million taxpayer dollars spent annually on legislator stipends, the practice of giving stipends undermines the integrity of the legislature.  Because party leaders control who gets a paid "leadership" post they can influence how a legislator votes.  The mere possibility that a legislator's vote could be purchased by a party leader empowered to grant or withhold a five figure stipend should be enough to do away with the practice.  After all, bribery is bad when it is private money but when taxpayers are footing the bill it becomes unconscionable.  

Some will quibble with my assertion that Assembly Members and State Senators are part timers and insist they are full time jobs warranting big salaries coupled with big stipends. 

Those who make this argument conflate crafting legislation, studying issues and performing constituent services with attending fundraisers, marching in parades and attending political party meetings.  The former is the true work of a lawmaker while the latter is campaigning and electioneering that should never be subsidized by taxpayers.


In addition to the fiscal and ethical problems created by the practice of boosting legislators' incomes with stipends, the practice highlights a bigger problem; if we can't count on elected officials in Albany to police profligate spending on themselves during these desperate economic times, how can they be trusted to tackle the monumental task of reducing state spending and crippling tax rates?


In the Marine Corps we learned to lead from the front.  Consequently, I will aggressively seek a leadership position in the Assembly but will not accept any stipend.  Additionally, I will zealously push for legislation that eliminates stipends and convince other lawmakers to forego stipends. 
 

Cynics will say that a single idealistic legislator cannot enact reform amid a sea of self-serving politicians.  To these naysayers the words of Andrew Jackson are directly on point, "One man with courage makes a majority."

 All the best,

 Kieran

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