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Capitol Watch: Top lawmakers dispute Cuomo pay limit claims

December 22, 2018

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — In New York state government news, top lawmakers are pushing back on Gov. Andrew Cuomo over a proposal to limit legislative moonlighting.

With Cuomo’s support, a state commission recently approved new restrictions on how much money lawmakers can make from side jobs. But top lawmakers from both parties say those limits were never part of a deal they negotiated with the Democratic governor.

Meanwhile, Sen. Kevin Parker, a Democrat, has apologized, again, for a Tweet that urged an aide to a Republican senator to kill herself.

Here’s a look at stories making news:

PAY DISPUTE: This year Cuomo and top lawmakers negotiated and approved a plan to create a commission to decide whether lawmakers deserved their first salary increase in 20 years.

The commission approved a significant raise this month — one that would increase salaries from $79,500 a year to $130,000 over three years. But in an effort to address corruption, the commission also approved new restrictions on how much lawmakers can make from jobs outside the legislature.

Legislative moonlighting has long been a conduit for bribes, giving businesses and groups with matters before the state a way to funnel money to supportive lawmakers.

Former House Speaker Sheldon Silver is appealing a criminal conviction related to millions of dollars he collected by steering business to a law firm.

The new restrictions, which would go into effect in 2020, cap the income lawmakers can make from outside jobs at 10 percent of their total salary.

Cuomo has praised the limits, but many lawmakers have questioned whether the commission had the legal authority to make the change, which has the effect of state law. And now, the leader of the Senate’s Republicans and the Democratic speaker of the Assembly say the limits on outside pay were never discussed when they agreed to the pay commission.

Republican Sen. John Flanagan of Long Island, the outgoing leader of the Senate, said Cuomo is trying “to rewrite history.”

“Despite what Gov. Cuomo now says, he knows that he, Speaker Heastie, and I all agreed that the compensation committee’s sole responsibility would be to examine and set the appropriate pay level for legislators and others who had gone two decades without a pay raise,” he said in a statement. “He knows that he gave the Speaker and I his word.”

The issue will likely be settled in the courts after a conservative government watchdog group, the Government Justice Center, challenged the unelected commission’s authority.

Cuomo has defended the commission and said lawmakers shouldn’t be surprised by the limits on outside pay.

“What we agreed to was in the law,” he said last week.

Speaker Carl Heastie of the Bronx agrees with Flanagan’s account.

“I don’t care what the governor says publicly - the three of us agreed that the commission’s purview ... wasn’t really outside income,” he said in a radio interview last week. “We think that they overreached. And now the courts will figure it out.”

APOLOGY DO-OVER: New York state Sen. Kevin Parker has apologized a second time after sending a tweet to a legislative staffer urging her to kill herself.

The Democrat initially apologized to Republican aide Candice Giove for what he called a “poor choice of words.” But then he went on to criticize Giove’s work as a spokeswoman for Republican lawmakers and, before that, for the former breakaway Democratic faction known as the Independent Democrats.

He tweeted that Giove “is on the wrong side of history for every important issue facing New York State!”

Parker initially tweeted “Kill yourself!” to Giove after Giove took to Twitter to accuse Parker of misusing a Senate parking placard in Manhattan.

Commenters on Twitter condemned Parker’s further criticism as evidence that his apology wasn’t genuine.

On Wednesday Parker tried again, announcing a donation to a mental health charity and tweeting: “I sincerely apologize to Candace Giove and to all those who were negatively impacted by my words.”

Reaction from Parker’s Twitter critics was mixed, though one noted that he had misspelled Giove’s name.

UPCOMING: Jan. 1: Cuomo kicks off third term with inaugural address on Ellis Island.

Jan. 9: Legislative session begins in Albany.

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