Usually when press conferences are held on a Friday afternoon, it’s to hide bad news. Last Friday’s announcement that Gov. Paterson, CSEA and PEF had agreed on a pension reform measure and a retirement incentive wasn’t exactly bad news, but it was a reminder of how much Albany has to give away to the public employee unions to get relatively little. And of what really needs to be done to start controlling the costs of government in New York state — and, despite previous threats and promises from Gov. Paterson, wasn’t done.
Creating a new Tier V in the pension system for new employees — in which they will contribute toward their retirement for a longer time, wait longer to get full benefits and be unable to pad their pension with overtime past a certain amount — is not insignificant. It will save billions of dollars down the road. But the benefits are still far more generous than most private-sector workers get, and what is limited or taken away now can easily be restored or given back in other ways through the “pension sweeteners” the Legislature overwhelmingly passes in large numbers every year.
The other part of the announcement had to do with job reductions. While negotiating the budget this spring, and trying to plug a $15 billion hole in it, Paterson had threatened to lay off 8,900 state employees unless the unions agreed to forgo a previously negotiated 3 percent raise. They didn’t agree (instead, taxes and fees were raised and programs cut to make up for the lost savings of $440 million over two years) — and now the state will offer a $20,000 retirement incentive to 4,500 workers, many of whom were going to retire anyway.
Meanwhile, Paterson has stopped talking about the school property tax cap that the Suozzi Commission recommended, and he had previously supported — and without which it will be impossible to rein in runaway school spending and the punitive local taxes needed to pay for it.
Dean Skelos and the Republicans were in favor of such a cap when they were in control of the Senate. But wait ... after yesterday’s bizarre coup, they appear to be again. A school property tax cap would be a good issue to show that bipartisan, coalition government — or whatever they choose to call it — is better than the old Soviet bloc model.
After that, perhaps they could take on another crazily expensive giveaway, the so-called “Triborough amendment” that ties the hands of local governments in dealing with their unions by continuing all terms and conditions of existing contracts after they expire.