N.Y. Politicians' Loyalty Should Not be For Sale: Lulus Corrupt the Democratic Process, So Ban Them

Liz Krueger

February 18, 2011

The following is an op-ed penned by Senator Krueger and published in the New York Daily News:

There are plenty of things we need to change about the New York State Legislature, from the way we finance our campaigns to how we draw legislative districts to the rules that govern the Senate. It's no wonder that New Yorkers are disgusted with the current state of our government.

But there's one practice that's so routine it's often overlooked on the reform wish list: the way rank-and-file members appear to sell their power, i.e. their votes, to party leadership. This is done through "lulus," the pet name for the large stipends doled out to those who are given leadership positions.

The most common way to acquire a lulu? By securing a chairmanship or ranking position on a committee or a leadership title within your political conference. These roles are distributed by party leaders to members of their own conference, both in the Senate and Assembly, with the highest positions and lulus going to majority members and lower ranking positions and lulus going to minority members.

At the end of the year, lulus cost the state $2.5 million, which is admittedly only a drop in the fiscal budget. But it's fundamentally corrupting when a partisan leader has direct control over thousands of dollars in your salary. 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. And even if they aren't rewarded or punished, the implicit threat is always there. Legislators, whether they intend to or not, become beholden to those who are charged with making leadership appointments, instead of the constituents they were elected to serve.

Recently, Albany saw a form of lulu abuse that shined a particularly bright light on how the process distorts the democratic process. Surprising many, all four members of the newly formed Independent Democratic Conference - a group of disgruntled Democrats led by Sen. Jeff Klein - were given chairmanships by the Republican Majority Leader. That meant they would get lulus as high as $12,500. (For those not familiar with political inside baseball, the majority leader very rarely gives chairmanships to members outside of his own party.)

What followed was not so surprising. After accepting the lulus, these IDC members suddenly began voting in lockstep with the Republicans. The most egregious instance came with a vote that allowed the Republicans to change the rules of the Senate and circumvent the State Constitution to strip Lieutenant Governor Robert Duffy, a Democrat, of his ability to cast a tiebreaking vote in the event that the Senate is tied. Coincidence? I don't believe it.

In fact, while committees serve a crucial role in the development of legislation, we simply have too many of them. Most senators sit on seven different committees - which is far too many to allow them to become a true expert in any one. Yet as recently as two weeks ago, we had yet another committee added to our roster. Why? Well, with a new committee came a brand new lulu and that lulu "just happened" to go to a member of the IDC.

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

This is why I never have accepted a lulu. It's why I encourage all my colleagues - in both the Senate and the Assembly - to refuse theirs. And it's why I am pushing legislation that would repeal the law that authorizes lulus.

Congress and dozens of other states, realizing these payments corrode the foundations of government, ban lulus. We must too.

Krueger is a state senator from Manhattan.

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