Our View: Outlawing state legislators’ outside income a good idea

Ruben Diaz

November 15, 2010

Our View: Outlawing state legislators’ outside income a good idea

Auburn Citizen

Posted: Monday, November 15, 2010 3:30 am

Although he’s been one of the most visible state lawmakers the past couple of years, we haven’t found much for which to praise state Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr. But the Bronx Democrat who has fought badly spending cuts in the state budget has finally found an issue that’s worth exploring — the outside income earned by state legislators.

Diaz has introduced legislation that would prohibit lawmakers from engaging in paid outside activity during their terms in office.

In other words, they would have to get by on their meager pay of $79,500 per year, plus the daily stipends, bonuses for leadership positions and generous benefits.

Most state legislators do have outside jobs — the largest contingent being private-sector lawyers — because the state Legislature is technically a part-time body made up of “citizen legislators.”

Most of these outside jobs probably bring these lawmakers significantly more money than what’s in their state paychecks, although that’s tough to prove because of Albany’s weak disclosure rules.

Even with that shortcoming, though, we’ve seen far too many examples of how state legislators outside employment create major conflicts with their duty to serve their state and their districts’ constituents.

Former Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno’s corruption trial in 2009 should have been a turning point in how New Yorkers view their Legislature. Bruno made millions of dollars doing private-sector consulting work, and it turned out much of that work involved using his influence as the top dog in the Senate. His defense in a nutshell — I was a private citizen who had to make a living.

If Diaz’s bill can somehow get through the Senate and Assembly and get signed by the governor, such excuses would be out the window, and perhaps lawmakers might be a little more focused on their state work and not their own bank accounts.