Pension Reform Goes Far But Not Far Enough

A legislative column from Assemblyman Michael Fitzpatrick (R,C,I-Smithtown)
June 9, 2011
After weeks of speculation, Governor Cuomo has introduced his pension reform legislation to the state. Taxpayers across New York State are struggling to pay their bills and with the sky-rocketing costs of living and property taxes, it is time for the legislature to reform the pension system to keep from putting an even tighter financial hold on citizens.

The Governor’s proposed legislation would add a Tier VI to the state pension system for new hires. Tier VI includes provisions for the removal of pension padding, increasing the state retirement age from 62 to 65, removing early retirement, requiring a 6% pension payment from employees, and using a five-year final average salary calculation with an 8% anti-spiking cap.

I applaud and strongly support the Governor’s legislative reform for the future of the pension system but it lacks a few key factors, in my opinion, that would only help to further pension reform. There is no option given for state employees to enter into a 401(k)-defined contribution plan that would allow employees maximum freedom and flexibility when it comes to their retirement savings. This reform also lacks the most necessary change for true pension reform and immediate savings, removal of the political class, defined as all elected official and political appointees, from the current defined benefit pension system.

Special interests are pushing lawmakers to keep the current pension system as is and just keep hiding the reality that these pension payments are financially exhausting taxpayers. In order to end that pressure from those Albany special interests and keep our property taxes low, I have introduced pension reform legislation that will give taxpayers immediate savings and start to put the state on the path toward fiscal solvency.

My reform measure, Assembly bill 5141, would remove the political class, defined as all elected officials and political appointees, from the current defined-benefit system and move them into a 401(k)-style defined-contribution pension plan. It would freeze their current benefits in place, requiring the employer to pay a 3% contribution.

This legislation would immediately begin to cut costs on Long Island taxpayers and removes incentives for the political class to fatten our already bloated state retirement system with expensive “sweeteners” and other special-interest giveaways. By removing the political class from the current pension system, Empire State taxpayers would have elected officials who are no longer beholden to the special interests lobbying in their capital. Under my plan, pension reform becomes the cornerstone for true long-lasting ethics reform.

The time for action is now; pension reform through Assembly bill 5141 can bring immediate savings to taxpayers throughout New York State. As always, I urge constituents with concerns on this or any other state matter to reach me at my district office in Smithtown at 631-724-2929.