NY Republicans betray taxpayers in favor of pricey union pensions

POLITICS: NY Republicans betray taxpayers in favor of pricey union pensions

While New Yorkers were preparing for Easter by dyeing eggs and baking pies, state Senate Republicans observed Holy Thursday by playing Judas to state taxpayers.

New York’s taxpayer-guaranteed public-pension system gives state and local government employees a state-tax-exempt payment in retirement based on their earnings and how long they work, shielding them from financial-market turbulence.

The cost of these pensions exploded in the early 2000s, from under $1 billion in 2000 to nearly $10 billion by 2010.

State lawmakers and governors, in response, created new pension “tiers” in 2010 and 2012 for future hires, with changes that included lifting the retirement age to 63 and requiring more employees to contribute toward their pensions.

The changes making up 2012’s Tier 6 are already saving taxpayers more than $1 billion per year and will ultimately save more than $80 billion.

With close to half of the public-sector workforce in Tier 6, public-employee unions are pressuring Albany to turn back the clock and give tens of thousands of people sweeter pension benefits — and sock taxpayers with tens of billions in costs.

The unions sought this sort of pension sweetening in 2000, getting lawmakers to stop requiring pension contributions from public employees — which was part of what made the system’s costs unsustainable within a few years.

As The Post reported this week, legislative Democrats are pushing Gov. Hochul to include a partial rollback of Tier 6 in the state budget.

The tweak to how pensions are calculated would cost more than $4 billion, slamming city taxpayers to the tune of more than $160 million the first year alone.

Reversing any pension reform would also drive up property taxes in every county, city and school district.

Hochul hasn’t yet said whether she’d support the move, which would also jack up state government’s pension costs.

But taxpayers suffered the greater betrayal at the hands of Senate Republicans — who have brayed about the state’s tax burden, its high property taxes and the need to limit spending — when they tried to pass the same pension sweetener as part of normal legislation.

The GOP senators, nearly all of whom were elected with public-employee union backing, used a parliamentary maneuver to try to bring the pension bill for a vote.

None of them voted against the move.

A trio of Long Island Senate Republicans took turns reciting union talking points about Tier 6 — at times sounding like they were arguing for eliminating it entirely.

Suffolk County Sen. Alexis Weik said juicier pension benefits are needed because New York faces a “crisis in recruiting and retaining workers” — just months after the state government’s workforce grew the most it ever had in a single year.

Tier 6 “has become the largest obstacle in attracting and retaining adequate numbers of high-quality public sector workers,” she alleged.

That’s especially preposterous considering few job applicants — and seemingly fewer state lawmakers — understand the ins and outs of pensions.

What ordinary New Yorkers do realize is the state’s public sector is part of a shrinking list of places where employees are even eligible for pensions.

The share of private-sector workers who have access to a pension continues sliding, from 20% in 2010 to 15% last year.

Pensions’ increasing scarcity makes the ones New York offers all the more valuable.

The unions’ ultimate goal is for public employees to retire at age 55 with full pension and health coverage — which would slam New Yorkers with tens of billions of dollars in new costs.

The Senate GOP put an elephant-shaped stamp of approval on labor’s premise with its theatrics, which were all the less defensible considering many of them voted for Tier 6 a dozen years ago.

The conference, which is effectively powerless in the chamber, showed it’s willing to shelf both credibility and principles when the state’s public-employee unions come calling.

And make no mistake: Thursday’s antics were about currying favor ahead of this year’s election.

As Sen. Dean Murray put it, “let’s send the message that we hear you, New York labor.”

Union campaign contributions and manpower, after all, can help lawmakers keep their seats (and their $142,000 salaries, their state benefits — and their state pensions).

But if Albany Republicans are so willing to betray taxpayers’ interests for 30 pieces of silver, taxpayers have good reason to wonder whether there’s a point in having Republicans in Albany.

Ken Girardin is the research director at the Empire Center for Public Policy.

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