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February 11, 2011


How not to fix pensions

Nicole Gelinas

The Post has a good editorial today on Mayor Bloomberg’s plan to cut pension costs by taking away a “bonus” check from uniformed workers who have already retired:

[W]hile the mayor has standing to ask for relief, the notion is fanciful, if not fantastical: Albany simply won’t single out police and fire retirees.

Nor should it.

The mayor originally proposed cutting new FDNY/NYPD hires out of the system — and that might have flown.

But he swiftly trained his sights on current retirees — folks who served the city honorably, in the full expectation that the cash would be there when they retired. … It is … a negotiated benefit.

Bloomberg would be on much more solid ground if he … moved more convincingly to seek support for across-the-board pension reform for new municipal employees. …

As it is, he’s burning political capital by the bushel.

The Post is correct.

It was not a good idea for former Mayor Lindsay to award and for Mayor Koch to expand this $12,000 annual “extra check” benefit decades ago. Nor was it a good idea for Albany to allow it; the city is not supposed to bargain pension benefits with workers, but rather follow Albany’s legal framework.

But the city did what it did long ago, and Albany agreed to it — and generations of workers since then have planned the financial aspects of their retirements with the expectation that New York would make good on its contractual agreement.

Grandstanding against current retirees, then, is only going to win the mayor a long court fight with an uncertain outcome. Furthermore, anything that makes mayor look capricious and unreasonable makes the unions’ intransigence on any issues seem justified. Why should unions cooperate with someone who wants to renege on a promise made ages ago?

Mayor Bloomberg should dial down the “bonus” talk and concentrate on fixing benefits — including eliminating the extra check — for future workers, not today’s retirees.

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