03/29/09 06:55 AM
Senate Democrats increase staffers’ pay
By Matthew Spina NEWS STAFF:

The victors are taking their spoils.

Despite the budget crisis, during which state leaders are angling to pull more money from taxpayers and perhaps lay off thousands of state workers, the Democrats who captured the state Senate have lavished raises on their staffs.

Take Western New York’s two Democratic senators, for example.

Key aides to Sen. William T. Stachowski of Lake View are collecting raises of 40 to 55 percent, while some aides to Sen. Antoine M. Thompson of Buffalo are seeing raises of 20 percent or better. And a couple of Thompson’s aides have doubled their salaries because they reached full-time status.

The recession hasn’t pinched the Senate Democrats, who say they have taken a bigger share of the duties and therefore expect to pay their people accordingly.

“Being in the minority, we were on a shoestring budget,” Thompson said of those times before 2009, when Republicans controlled the Senate and Democrats were, under Albany’s feudal system, treated as less than equal.

The Democrats then were limited to about $250,000 a year in staff salaries.

Thompson’s staff, as designed now, is on track to consume $380,000 in the fiscal year that starts Wednesday. That figure doesn’t include the $330,000 going to the staff

of the Environmental Conservation Committee he leads.

Republican payrolls, meanwhile, will be on the decline. According to a Senate spokesman, Democrats intend to spend less running the Senate in the coming fiscal year than the Republicans budgeted for the current year.

And yet all senators have the same number of constituents.

So why are power and resources allocated based on their intensely partisan spoils system?

“In terms of pure resources, it isn’t fair to allocate them based on partisanship, or even seniority,” said Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group, who has been watching Albany operate for years.

He said legislators with more responsibilities should receive the resources they need to do their jobs. But as for a legislator’s basic functions, resources should be parceled out equally.

“We don’t buy ‘To the victor goes the spoils,’ ” he said. “Taxpayers pay for the service. And they all deserve the same service.”

Thompson said Democrats are treating the Republicans better than the Republicans treated them in the past. Republican senators in the coming budget year will get to spend a total $350,000 on staff salaries, $100,000 more than they previously allowed the Democrats.

In addition, months ago Democrats struck a deal to let the GOP keep all of its employees working up to March 31, the end of the current fiscal year. That way, workers facing layoffs would have time to find jobs.

Thompson’s deputy chief of staff, Joann Cole, has seen a pay raise of 21 percent, to $50,000 a year, according to Senate records.

Linda Walker, director of Thompson’s Niagara County operation, has moved from three-quarter-time status to full-time and as a result has seen her pay go up by 24 percent, to $45,000.

Stachowski’s staff will collect raises too. The senator says he’s now able to pay his people fairly — after years of forced sacrifice at Republican hands.

Members of the Democratic majority and their aides are a lot busier now that they are in control, the senator said.

“I was not giving raises; I was giving compensation that recognizes the extra workload they have,” Stachowski said of his employees. “They have more meetings, more letters to answer. More of everything.”

But employees everywhere are sacrificing in the current economy. Can’t Senate employees do the same?

“I am just hoping to compensate people rightly,” Stachowski said.

Diane Bukowski, the senator’s scheduler and general assistant, received a 40 percent raise and now earns $70,000 a year.

Stachowski’s chief of staff for the Albany office, Kathleen Nolan, now makes 17 percent more, or $55,000.

The pay for his communications specialist, Robert Koshinski, rose 55 percent, to $70,000.

The pay for the overall chief of staff, Dennis Kozuch, rose 23 percent, to $80,000.

Stachowski can also spend $245,000 a year on salaries for his committee on Commerce, Economic Development and Small Business.

While Democratic salaries are shooting up in the Senate, Republican senators for the last few months have had bigger office staffs and many better-paid workers. That will be coming to an end with the end of the fiscal year on Tuesday.

Sen. Dale M. Volker’s legislative attorney, John Drexelius, earns almost $107,000 a year and appears to be the best-paid Senate staffer from the local delegation, according to Senate records. And, Harry Wahl, a force in Volker’s re-election victory last year, is on the payroll at about $80,000.


Listen to Stackowski... listen to the rest. There's no justification- is this the same state in a budget crisis? When does it stop?