Even though it flew under the radar with the passing of the gay marriage bill, teachers’ jobs being saved and fire stations not closing, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law a bill targeting public pensions, addressing issues he claimed were “abuse” by some state employees.
The bill gives the New York State comptroller’s office access to the State Department of Taxation and Finance’s wage reporting system. This would allow them to identify New York state and local retirement system retirees who exceed the state’s post-retirement earnings limitation.
If a state or local government employee earns more than the aforementioned limits, the comptroller has the authority to suspend and recoup any excess pension payments. Cuomo referred to this practice as “double dipping.”
The bill was sponsored by New York State Sen. Joseph A. Griffo and New York State Assemblyman Peter J. Abbate Jr.
New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli seemed please with the bill’s signing, as he’s been pushing to uncover abuse himself.
“I’ve been pushing hard to end pension abuse,” said DiNapoli in a statement earlier this month. “This legislation is the next piece of the puzzle. Our message is clear: Everyone must play by the same rules. This legislation will allow government agencies to work together to reduce fraud, waste and abuse.”
The Retirement and Social Security Law (RSSL) places limits on the amount that can be earned by retirees who return to public employment without it affecting their pension payments. Many retirees are covered by Section 212 of the law, which allows retired persons under the age of 65 to earn up to $30,000 per calendar year without any pension penalty. At the moment, the retirement system compares retiree information with payroll data for state employees on an annual basis, but the same system didn’t exist for local public employers in the state.
Last week, the AmNews reported that, while he had failed to accept an invitation to meet with our editorial staff, Cuomo met with the New York Times over a week ago to lay out his plans for 2012 (The governor is now scheduled to meet with the AmNews staff). Cuomo said that curbing public pension benefits would be his top goal.
The New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) organization wasn’t too fond of Cuomo’s remarks.
“When New Yorkers set aside the rhetoric and look at the facts, they’ll see that pensions provide a dignified retirement for teachers and other public employees, who earn less in their careers than other professionals with similar education and experience,” said a NYSUT spokesperson in a statement to the AmNews.
“New Yorkers should know that, less than two years ago, unions agreed to a new pension tier that is saving taxpayers $35 billion over the next two decades,” continued the spokesperson. “Wall Street always tells investors to look at the long term. Over the last 15 years, employer costs are averaging 4.1 percent a year for employees while teachers and other public sector workers themselves have been contributing 3 percent of their pay. More than 80 percent of the New York’s pension systems nest egg comes from investment income and half the rest comes from employee contributions.
“Taxpayers are only picking up a small sliver of the cost,” continued the statement. “New Yorkers should also know they get a huge bang for that buck: More than 80 percent of the pension checks distributed to public employees stay in New York, contributing to the economy. Those are the facts.”