On Dec. 17, state Supreme Court Justice George Ceresia of Troy shot down an attempt to do what even the public employee unions’ lackeys in the Legislature haven’t tried to do: lock in retirees’ health benefits at the same level as when they retired. His reasoning is solid, and the decision itself is important: It means that taxpayers won’t have to pick up the entire tab for skyrocketing health insurance costs when it comes to retirees and their families.
The lawsuit was brought by the New York Retired Public Employees Association, challenging a premium increase (from 10 to 12 percent of the total premium for an individual plan, and from 25 to 27 percent for a family plan) the state imposed on retirees after it negotiated a contract in mid-2011 calling for the same increase for active employees.
This isn’t an entirely new issue. Retired public employees have always argued that their health benefits can’t be diminished — unless they are also diminished for active employees. And for 20 years lawmakers provided that protection, but only for retired teachers and only with temporary legislation, renewed each year.
In 2009 Gov. David Paterson foolishly made the protection permanent for teachers in return for the teacher union’s support for modest pension reforms. Since then, other public employee unions have been trying to get the same protection, to no avail.
What’s new in this case is that the retirees were claiming the state couldn’t increase their premiums even though it was doing the same for active employees. As Judge Ceresia pointed out, in forceful language, the retirees have no contract protecting their pensions against any diminishment, and their claim that state Civil Service Law doesn’t allow the diminishment is invalid because the Legislature specifically amended the law in 2011 to allow it.
Ceresia ruled that the retirees had no cause of action — which is to say, they had no case.