The Albany Times-Union reported this week that
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State Sen. Malcolm Smith‘s defection brought a bigger payday for his closest aides.
The Democratic lawmaker from Queens gave members of his staff taxpayer-funded raises totaling $58,500 effective with the new year, payroll records show. The raises coincided with his decision to join the breakaway Independent Democratic Conference as it allied with Republicans to form a ruling coalition.
That includes $15,000 raises for both Tai D. White, Smith’s longtime district director, and Meredith Henderson, his chief of staff, as well as smaller raises for other aides. Smith did not return calls seeking comment.
A former leader of the main Democratic conference, Smith said in early December he would join the IDC, just hours before it announced its alliance with the GOP. He said the move was motivated by a desire to make the chamber “function.”
The Senate spent $81.3 million on operations and staff in 2012. At the Capitol, staffers employed by the majority party have long commanded higher salaries than their counterparts in the minority. When Democrats took control of the chamber after the 2008 elections, they raised their own salaries and slashed the allocation for their Republican counterparts. Republicans did the same thing in 2010, though that changeover came with the revelation that Democrats had overspent their allotted budget by $7.7 million.
This spoils system remains in effect. IDC Leader Jeff Klein said the raises were justified because IDC senators such as Smith have greater responsibilities than their minority conference counterparts, and “a strong and robust staff is essential in order to meet those demands.”
“Our staffing needs never have ‘ and never will ‘ cost the taxpayers of New York one additional cent. The IDC has always prided itself on being lean and tough,” Klein said in a statement provided by his spokesman, Eric Soufer.
“Everyone on our staff considers it an honor to serve the people of New York, and I’d put the skills and talents of my folks up against any other staff in the country.”
Soufer’s annual salary increased by $35,000, to $110,000.
That’s the same amount earned by his Republican counterpart, Scott Reif, but more than Democratic conference spokesman Mike Murphy, whose annual pay is $85,000.
There are five IDC senators, 27 Democratic senators and 31 members of the Republican conference.
Other aides to the IDC and its leader, Klein of the Bronx, saw their pay increase by five-figure amounts. Chief of Staff John Emrick received a $40,000 raise; he is now paid $150,000. Counsel Shelley Andrews got a $35,000 bump, to $110,000. Those raises were first reported last week by Crain’s New York and the Daily News.
Klein also doled out raises to other employees, and the IDC hired nine new employees for a combined, increased payroll of $349,000.
The money to pay these new employees will apparently be deducted from mainstream Democrats’ allotment. New chamber rules reduce the amount of central staff funding allocated to the 27 Democrats from 33 percent of the total to 30 percent.
Susan Lerner, executive director of the good government group Common Cause, criticized the arrangement.
“What we are concerned about, consistently, is the unequal distribution of resources between the conferences,” said Lerner. “We know that the IDC has been granted a lot of taxpayer resources because it’s now a third conference, and that strikes us as problematic. Democrats are receiving a lower amount, and that’s problematic.”
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