Another legislative year means another attempt by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to address budget problems by targeting those who have already sacrificed the most: public service workers. This time, the governor has made it his top priority to take a wrecking ball to retirement security.
With his proposal for a new Tier 6 for new state and local government employees, the governor will cut pension benefits by 40 percent, dramatically increase employees’ pension contributions for the duration of their careers and provide no retirement benefits at all until age 65. The governor’s plan completely undermines the retirement security of first responders, law enforcement personnel, nurses, teacher’s assistants, daycare workers and all the other men and women on whom New Yorkers depend.
Additionally, the governor wants to steer new employees into a risky 401(k) defined-contribution plan instead of the traditional pension system. In a 401(k), employees with no expertise or experience manage their own retirement funds and what they receive after retirement depends on how well they’ve managed them. This is a recipe for disaster, and we can see it in what happened to investment returns after Wall Street’s crash in 2008. Many Americans with 401(k) accounts lost as much as half of their retirement nest egg when the market collapsed. Baby boomers’ accounts may never recover as they retire and enter their 70s.
Moreover, under the governor’s 401(k) plan, the same Wall Street firms that crashed our economy in 2008 will now be rewarded with billions of dollars in new fees.
For African-Americans and Hispanics, the situation is even worse. A large savings gap already exists due to a number of factors, including wage disparities. Those gaps will only worsen if new workers take the bait and opt to gamble on a 401(k) account. This proposal is a direct attack on the African-American middle class. Cuomo seems to be making this a habit.
Under this proposal, future public service employees just can’t win: Opt for the traditional pension plan and your benefits will be drastically reduced or opt for the 401(k) plan and put your retirement security on the roulette wheel. You might receive more–or you might receive dramatically less. Unfortunately, you won’t know until it’s too late.
The bottom line is that the governor’s plan tries to fix a system that isn’t broken. A study by the Pew Center called New York’s pension funds among the best managed in the nation. Governing magazine has cited New York as the national pension leader. The governor is blowing up a house to kill a spider.
Instead of targeting public service workers, Cuomo needs to focus on the real problem: the 1 percent on Wall Street who aren’t paying their fair share. We call on Cuomo to make everyone do the right thing, including his billionaire friends.
Walthene Primus is clerical worker for the NYC Housing Authority and president of DC37 Local 957.