With millions of New Yorkers currently out of work and many business owners still trying to figure out the parameters of reopening amid COVID-19 restrictions, it's hard to argue the logic of the good government group Common Cause/NY, which this week called upon state lawmakers to forgo half their salary in exchange for doing half their job.
As Common Cause noted, lawmakers have not voted on a single piece of legislation since passing the 2020-2021 state budget during the first week of April. Senators and assembly members from both parties have instead stayed within their respective districts, handling constituent services full time instead of tackling issues in Albany.
By comparison, as Common Cause/NY noted, the New York City Council has held 20 hearings and passed five bills since going remote 3-1/2 weeks ago. Dozens of local governments in Niagara County, including villages, towns, cities and the county government itself, have continued to do the people's business under social distancing standards and COVID-19 constraints that have required meetings to be conducted via Facebook and Zoom.
By contrast, the state legislature has held just two hearings in the past seven weeks.
"Why should New Yorkers pay lawmakers $110,000 — in the middle of a budget deficit — to do only half their jobs? Voters elect our representatives to legislate for six months out of the year and handle constituent services, not one or the other. If they are so intent on shirking their responsibilities and not resuming session remotely, then their paycheck should reflect that," said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause/NY.
When local governments and school districts are being required to trim staff or lay off workers in response to budgetary constraints brought on by the pandemic, we also wonder how many, if any, aides or staff workers assigned to state legislative districts have been furloughed.
We don't like to see anyone lose a job, but if their bosses aren't working in Albany and a pay cut is warranted for them, then shouldn't a similar thought apply to their assistants?
Legislative leaders have suggested that they will eventually figure out a way to get back to work in Albany and the process may yet include accommodations for remote sessions.
"I know people seem to be a little frustrated, but it's kind of like we're circling the airport till they tell us it's safe to land," Speaker Carl Heastie said last month.
It's by no means "safe to land" just yet where living and working in the age of COVID-19 are concerned. Regions like Western New York are in the process of gradually reopening, with an eye on public health and safety while getting the economy moving and people working again.
Many business owners found creative ways to allow workers who could do so to work from home. Restaurant owners adapted to delivery and curbside pickup only. Frontline workers in hospitals, fire halls and police departments stayed on their jobs.
State lawmakers — some of whom complained by emailed press releases about state spending during the pandemic — essentially went into full shutdown mode, offering no firm plan or schedule for when they may consider important pieces of legislation that warrant their consideration.
They could do their part to help the state's financial situation by following the request from Common Cause/NY and accepting a pay reduction for the weeks they haven't been working.
Under the circumstances facing New York and its local governments and school districts, it's the least our representatives in the state senate and assembly can do.