In the world of nutrition, too much sugar leads to obesity; and the same is true when it comes to public employee pensions and the state budget. The so-called “sweeteners” that lawmakers pass every year, with the general goal of letting more people retire even earlier with bigger pensions, are major contributors to New York’s budgetary corpulence.
Gov. Paterson deserves praise for vetoing one of those sweeteners for police and firefighters this week, but there are dozens more union-inspired (if not -written) bills introduced and waiting to be passed. If done in the usual way, they will all be adopted at the end of the session, in the middle of the night, unanimously, with no debate. At a time when the state has been struggling to find ways to close multibillion-dollar budget deficits; when the state pension fund’s value has dropped $45 billion or more than 25 percent, necessitating big increases in contributions not only from the state but local governments; when the governor is proposing reforms to control the runaway costs of the pension system — to even propose further sweeteners is nothing short of incredible.
Here are some examples of just the more expensive sweeteners. One would remove the 50 percent cap on cost-of-living increases for older retirees. Cost: $760 million in the first year, $300 million from the state and $460 million from local governments.
Another, sponsored by Albany’s own Assemblyman Jack McEneny (who has sponsored nine of these bills), would allow all state and local employees to retire with full benefits at age 55 after 25 years of service rather than the current 30 years. This one would cost the state, local governments and school districts a total of $362 million annually.
Yet another would eliminate the required 3 percent contribution for Tier 3 and 4 employees (which ends after 10 years anyway), at a cost of $107 million. This is just the opposite of what is happening in the private sector, as workers are paying more toward their company pensions, or having them frozen, or having to fund their own retirements with 401ks.
We hope Gov. Paterson has his veto pen handy, and is prepared to use it again and again.