New York taxpayers are at risk of hundreds of millions in added costs from the 119 pension-sweetener bills now before the Legislature.
Public-employee unions come back every year asking for more-generous rules for pensions and other benefits. It’s a no-lose game: If you don’t get the giveaway one year, come back the next.
Lawmakers play along by pretending that many sweeteners won’t cost the public a dime: Two-thirds of the current package comes with estimated costs of zero.
A few years back, The New York Times quoted one analyst for the Assembly as admitting his no-costs estimates were “one step above voodoo.” Independent review later put the cost for 11 bills passed with his numbers at $500 million.
The Citizens Budget Commission warns the current 119 bills would cost the public at least $349 million. And that’s accepting those absurd “it’s free” claims.
Few if any of these sweeteners pass the sniff test. Why extend eligibility for early retirement on a three-quarters disability pension to state court officers, park rangers and public-campus cops? Why jigger the rules to give judges higher retirement pay?
And why allow “mandatory” overtime to count toward calculating pension payouts, as Sen. Tony Avella (D-Queens) proposes?
Above all: Why boost payouts with no real public debate, in bills that will largely pass in a rush in the final days of the session?
Senate Republicans (who sometimes try to show some fiscal responsibility) are one check on these giveaways, but it’s usually up to the governor to veto many of them.
But this year Gov. Cuomo (who has a decent record of vetoing sweeteners) is eager for union love as he faces the Cynthia Nixon challenge.
The whole sordid racket is an argument for moving the state toward the 401(k) model — which defines the employer’s contribution to the pension, rather than employees’ benefits from it.
Sadly, few New York politicians will even think about that shift before the pension funds start going broke, thanks to all the sweeteners they’ve already passed.
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