In Light Of Federal Corruption Charges Against Silver, Pension Reform More Important Than Ever

A Legislative Column from Assemblyman Mike Fitzpatrick (R,C,I-Smithtown)

Sheldon Silver’s arrest on federal bribery and corruption charges highlights the on-going need to reform our state’s expensive pension system for elected officials. If Silver is convicted, he will remain eligible to collect a taxpayer-funded pension – which is a gross misuse of public funds and should be changed.

A recent article published online by the Albany Times Union exposed the amount of money Sheldon Silver stands to make should he retire from office in the coming weeks. Making use of a pension calculator created by the independent Empire Center policy group, the report shows that, should Silver decide to take his pension, he will make $87,120 annually, $7,620 more than the current $79,500 base legislator pay for ”doing his job” – when he is present.

Under the laws of the U.S. Constitution, Sheldon Silver deserves due process, as does any American, and is presumed innocent until proven guilty. What he does not deserve, nor does any legislator who violates the public trust, is the opportunity to collect a pension paid for by the taxpayers of New York State if he is convicted of the felony charges against him. New Yorkers, statewide, struggle to make ends meet before they can even begin to dream about retirement savings, and they should not be burdened further by funding the pensions of convicted felons.

Since I was first elected, I have advocated for pension reform as a means to reforming the way the state spends taxpayer dollars. I have introduced reform bills to transition the political class from the current defined-benefit system to a defined-contribution, 401 (k) style, retirement plan in an effort to reduce the tax burden on our residents. Yet now, further reforming public pensions is imperative to help restore public trust in government.

If convicted of a felony, elected officials should be stripped of their taxpayer-funded pensions, and state law should require it. We should accept nothing less. I will continue to fight for pension reform. This session, I will continue to sponsor legislation to require elected officials convicted of a felony while in the course of their public duties to forfeit their pension and retirement benefits.