Contact: Michael Fraser, (518) 455-3751
Hard Working New York Taxpayers
Convicted former legislative leaders Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos will collect New York taxpayer money to the tune of $79,223 and $95,832, respectively, while in prison. Like most New Yorkers, I'm continually baffled there is still no deal in place to strip convicted public officials of their pensions. As the Legislature approaches the third month of the 2016 session, it is time to finally take action on pension forfeitures - an old issue that's generating new headlines.
Walking Away From Agreement Proves Costly
It defies logic that a comprehensive pension forfeiture law is still not on the books. Since 2010, I have proudly stood with my colleagues in the Assembly Minority to offer legislation to correct this affront to taxpayers and punish those who betrayed their office and constituents. But year after year, the Assembly Majority has blocked this common-sense proposal and allowed an indefensible practice to continue.
In addition to their years of obstruction, the Assembly Majority's maneuver in 2015 might have been the most egregious. An agreement on pension forfeitures was reached by the governor and Legislature in March. The Senate passed pension forfeiture legislation as part of the State Budget. But the Assembly Majority never brought the bill to the floor, never took a vote, and walked away from the agreement entirely.
Their decision protected the pensions of convicted officials, and forces taxpayers to continue to fund the retirements of those who abused their office and betrayed the people of New York. It was a mistake by the Assembly Majority that is still costing taxpayers dearly.
A Little Perspective
Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos will be making more money behind bars than many New Yorkers make working day-in and day-out, and that is wholly unacceptable. The average annual wage for Seneca and Ontario county residents is $42,536, according to recent information from the Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics. But here in New York, convicted officials stand to make far more than that after being thrown out of office, having their retirements funded by the very taxpayers they have betrayed.
New Yorkers are already distrustful of their Legislature; asking them to foot the bill to pay the pensions of convicted officials who betrayed them does nothing but exacerbate their concerns.
The Definition Of Dysfunction
The sad irony here is that Albany's dysfunction is the only thing standing in the way of reforms to address this issue. In true Albany fashion, a common-sense, straightforward bill has been amended, revised and thrown back to square one. The bottom line is this: if an individual uses their taxpayer-funded position to break the law, they are no longer entitled to a taxpayer-funded retirement.
We've seen too many excuses from Assembly Majority members and not nearly enough action on this issue. They have consistently discovered - or invented - new reasons to delay a pension forfeiture bill from advancing. Despite promises of change and reform with a new Speaker, the lack of results on pension forfeiture is simply more of the same.
This policy should not be exclusive to elected officials. As I have pointed out before - Joyce Mitchell used her position at Clinton Correctional Facility to set two killers loose on the North Country, setting off a three-week manhunt that cost the state $1 million every day. Is there any rational person who believes Ms. Mitchell should be eligible for a state pension?
As the Legislature begins the arduous budget process, I urge all of you to call on your representatives to do something now. It is shameful New Yorkers are continually insulted by legislative leaders who have failed to move on important legislation for two months. With enough pressure from those whose money is being wasted, I am certain we will be able fix our broken government.
What do you think? I want to hear from you. Send me your feedback, suggestions and ideas regarding this or any other issue facing New York State. You can always contact my district office at (315) 781-2030 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.