Top officials ask that two state senators from CNY be paid for positions they don't hold
For the second year in a row, top New York state Senate officials requested that two senators from central New York be paid bonuses for leadership positions that they don’t actually hold.
According to a Friday report in The New York Times, state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office recently received certifications falsely listing five state senators as chairmen and chairwomen of Senate committees.
The senators involved are all actually vice chairs of those committees, but were requested by Senate officials to be paid stipends worth tens of thousands of dollars that under state law are only reserved for chairs. The senators themselves don't make the requests.
Two of the senators in question are Democrat David Valesky, who represents the city of Syracuse and parts of Onondaga, Madison and Oneida counties, and Republican Patty Ritchie, who represents Oswego County and areas northward.
According to the Times, DiNapoli is considering withholding some of the stipends until it can be proven that a lawmaker’s position warrants a stipend. As a result, Valesky and Ritchie could lose three-quarters of their bonuses.
The comptroller’s action stems from reports last year that several senators including Valesky and Ritchie were being paid as committee chairpersons even though they weren’t.
The Times reported in 2017 that Ritchie was authorized to receive a $15,000 bonus for serving as chair of the Health Committee, despite only serving as deputy vice chair. Two documents in 2015 and 2016 identified Valesky as chairman of the Health Committee, despite being the vice chair. In total, Valesky received $30,000 in gross pay for the stipends in 2015 and 2016, the Times reported.
Both lawmakers maintained that their compensation was legal and did not return the money to the state treasury.
This year, Valesky was labeled on Senate certifications as “senior assistant majority leader of the Senate,” a position that allegedly warrants a $27,500 payment. Valseky is not listed under that position on the Senate website or on a list of his memberships on his own website.
Both Valesky and Ritchie were contacted by CNYCentral for comment on Tuesday afternoon. A spokesman for Ritchie referred to the Senate Majority’s Office in Albany. A spokeswoman for Valesky referred to Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) leadership.
"We expect the Secretary of State will answer all of the Comptroller's questions to his satisfaction," said IDC Director of Communications Candice Giove.
“We continue to maintain that everything that’s been done is in accordance to the law,” said Senate Majority Office spokesman Scott Reif, who said he spoke for the secretary of the Senate. “To the extent the comptroller has any questions, we’re working with him to answer and resolve those questions just like we would on any other issue.”
The stipends in question are part of a bonus system in the New York state Senate, where nearly all 63 members take home stipends, also known as “lulus,” that add between $9,000 and $34,000 to their $79,500 base pay they get for being legislators. The lulus are provided by taxpayers.
A lawyer for the Republican leadership wrote a memo last year saying the additional compensation falls under a specific clause allowing unspecified pay for senators serving in a “special capacity.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report