Silver calls the notion of a Democratic State Senate ‘enticing’

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Sheldon Silver. (Azi Paybarah.)
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Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver this morning told Fred Dicker on Talk 1300 radio that he found the idea of Democrats winning back the State Senate "enticing," even though he won't put any fund-raising muscle behind it.

"I'd like to see things that the Republican majority has stopped, like a minimum wage increase," he said. "I think with a Democratic majority in the Senate, that would become the law of the state. I think ... campaign finance reform, or public campaign finance, would become a part of the laws of this state if there was a Democratic majority in the Senate. So that's enticing to me in terms of why there ought to be a democratic majority."

Yet he does seem to have some reservations about the prospect, too.

"[Y]ou also have the complication of the so-called Independent Democratic Caucus, which seems to be more aligned with Republicans than Democrats on many of the major issues and then have been treated as part of the leadership of the Republican conference, or at least of the Republican majority," he said, referring to a breakaway four-member faction. "What happens if in fact they are part of an overall Democratic majority? Do they continue their relationship with the Republicans, or do they revert back to being Democrats?"

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All of which would seem to indicate that the Senate Democrats, if they want to win back control, are essentially on their own.

They've been having trouble fund-raising, and Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has worked effectively with the Senate Republicans, has been reluctant to speak on the Democrats' behalf.

Dicker asked Silver if he might help the Senate Democrats out himself.

"We have our own needs, our own members who have needs," Silver responded, referring to the Assembly's 100-member Democratic conference. "All of our focus in our fund-raising is on the Assembly."

In other news, Silver steadfastly denied reports of ongoing discussions between legislative leaders and the governor's office about pay raises for members of the Senate and Assembly.

In June, Dicker, the New York Post's state editor, reported that "A deal to approve lawmakers’ first pay raise since 1999 calls for legislators’ base $79,500 salary to jump to more than $100,000 starting Jan. 1," something he said would go into effect after Thanksgiving, and after the elections. Dicker, who has extraordinary access to the Cuomo and his aides, attributed the information to "sources."

But today, Silver denied there had been any discussions about pay raises at all.

"Basically there have been no discussions among legislative leaders or staff concerning any potential pay raise," he said.

"I've been on record for at least the last seven or eight years saying it's fine," he added. "That hasn't produced anything. I think the governor this year has indicated that he would be amenable. But there have been no discussions other than you and I having the discussion, you and maybe [the] governor's staff having the discussion. There have been no discussions. There is no plan. There is no date for a session. There is no discussion, not deep, not shallow, not at all."

State legislators, who technically are only part-time employees, haven't had a pay raise in a decade.

The general consensus is that it would be politically toxic for legislators to vote themselves pay raises before an election, particularly given the state of the rest of the economy.

Dicker asked Silver if he could state, unequivocally, that there would not be a pay hike after the elections.

"I can't tell you whether there will or won't be a vote on it," said Silver. "But I can only tell you there is no plan right now to have it. There is no plan and no discussion to talk about it."