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Editorial: Salaries and pensions, see how they grow

Editorial: Salaries and pensions, see how they grow

Spotlight on public pensions points to a big problem

First those helpful people at the Manhattan Institute posted educators’ salaries on their “SeeThroughNY” Web site (http://www.seethroughny.net/), giving taxpayers a chance to see how what was once thought of as a low-paying job is no longer. Wednesday they started providing more eye-opening information — the direct, permanent consequence of those generous salaries, with new data for educators’ pensions.

In case you didn’t know, teachers’ and other public employees’ pensions are based on their final average salary, which is the highest three years, in most cases the last three. (In some cases, especially with police officers, those salaries near the end are inflated by overtime, yielding a pension well above the employee’s base pay.)

The Web site shows just how well teachers have done for themselves. Most who have retired since 1990 are getting pensions in the $40,000s, $50,000s and even $60,000s. With rules that allowed half-pay benefits at 55 after 30 years of service, many of them retired long before age 65 — which means taxpayers are paying teachers pensions that match or exceed the average New Yorker’s salary during years when most people their age are still working, and for the rest of their lives. Nice deal if you can get it.

For administrators, just ratchet it up commensurately. The Web site shows most of them in the $80,000s and $90,000s, and many of them, especially downstate, over $100,000.

These pensions are a huge, immutable (under the state constitution, benefits cannot be “diminished or impaired” for any current member of a public retirement system) cost for school districts, and still a rapidly escalating one. They’re the first claim on taxpayer dollars, leaving that much less for the education of kids.

The Tier V pension category added this year for new employees, after an agreement between the governor and public employee unions, will bring only relatively modest savings — and even less for teachers, who will still be able to retire with full benefits after 30 years at age 57 (up from 55), compared to state and municipal workers who will have to work until 62 for those benefits.

The Manhattan Institute has done a real service by reminding us how much salaries and pensions are related, and by showing how privileged a class teachers and other public employees have become. Most other Americans, who work just as hard or harder, don’t have nearly as generous pensions, if they have one at all. And more and more are under some version of a defined-contribution plan, where they and/or their employer contribute a certain amount each year, invest it and see it grow or not, with no guaranteed benefit. The state should at least insist on this for new employees.

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