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Keep the Change

One state senator wants to stop giving legislators lulus

by Jason Chura on March 16, 2011

With the recent Federal corruption charges leveled against Sen. Carl Kruger and Assemblyman William Boyland, renewed calls for ethics reform are sure to come.

Sen. Liz Krueger was a bit ahead of the game. In an opinion piece that originally appeared in the New York Daily News on Feb. 18, Krueger called for an end to a common practice in state government: what she terms the “buying and selling of legislator’s loyalty” through stipends attached to appointed positions, or “lulus.”

A “lulu” is bonus compensation dispensed at the whim of party leadership for serving as the chair or ranker (ranking member of the minority) on a special legislative committee. Stipends range from $9,000 to more than $30,000 depending on the significance of the committee and the position held. Though some senators hold multiple committee chair positions, only the highest stipend is paid out. The base salary for a New York state senator or assemblyman is $79,500.

Krueger, who has never accepted a lulu, is introducing legislation that would repeal the law that allows for leadership stipends on the grounds that such payments have a corruptive influence on the democratic process.

“Whether it’s Majority Leader Dean Skelos, Speaker Sheldon Silver or the two minority leaders, through this giving and taking of supplemental salary, legislators can be rewarded for loyalty or punished for dissidence,” said Krueger in the opinion piece.

Krueger alleged that one such example of this corruption is evident in the Independent Democratic Conference’s recent voting pattern. The IDC is a group of four rogue Democrats consisting of Sens. Jeff  Klein, Diane Savino, David Carlucci, and David Valesky. The Republican conference broke form by giving all four Democrats committee chair positions instead of filling seats with members of their own party. Each position carried a $12,500 stipend.

Krueger claimed that these positions cast doubt on the motivations of IDC in voting along with Republicans on actions that followed, including the IDC’s backing of the Senate Republicans’ push to strip the lieutenant governor of his tiebreaking vote in the Senate. Sen. Savino later denied these claims, stating that IDC members stood to make more money by remaining rank and file Democrats and taking the positions that would have been afforded by doing so.

“It’s fundamentally corrupting when a partisan leader has direct control over thousands of dollars in your salary,” said Krueger.

Lulus add up to just over $2.5 million between the Senate and the Assembly; a small sum in the scope of the state budget, but a substantial amount to a state facing a slew of budget cutbacks.

“At this time of economic downturn, it would save a fair purse of money,” said Sen. Neil Breslin. “Also, without these stipends, you can give more independence to individual members . . .  if they aren’t as dependent upon the stipends being designated and paid by the leaders of their respective conferences.”

Breslin, who accepts a stipend as deputy minority leader, said that he supports the abolishment of stipends, but added that “rankers, chairmen, and leaders do a lot more work than the stipend pays them.”

“Some in Albany argue that the additional responsibilities that come with serving in these positions warrant extra pay, said Krueger. “ I believe chairmanships and other leadership responsibilities are just a part of the job.”

According to Breslin, without a companion bill in the Assembly, the anti-lulu legislation is unlikely to go far.

Krueger was named ranker on the Senate Finance Committee on March 10, replacing Sen. Carl Kruger after he surrendered to authorities on corruption charges. The position has a $20,500 lulu attached to it, which Krueger has declined.