August 29, 2013

Editorial: Pension practice gone badly awry


---- — Here’s one that will confound you if you’re a New York state taxpayer: Employees of certain lobbying groups, including associations of counties and school boards, qualify for full state pensions.

That is, it will confound you unless you happen to be one of those fortunate employees.

The Associated Press found this practice to be rampant; the situation exists in 20 states, including New York. It surely should rankle taxpayers who pay these retirement costs, especially since so many people these days find themselves without any retirement plan at all.

It used to be that when a young man or woman would launch a career with a company, there was a certainty that, when retirement time came, a healthy monthly check would be waiting. It wasn’t even an issue.

These days, though, private companies are finding 401(k) and other plans more to their liking. Why not? The employee pays for almost all of it.

With the two severe economic downturns in the 2000s, companies have just about had to abandon traditional retirement plans. Among companies that have frozen plans are United Airlines, General Motors, IBM, Sprint/Nextel, Unisys and Verizon. A few that never offered them in the first place are Dell, Google, JetBlue, Microsoft and Starbucks. Among the entities that continue to offer them are most governments.

So, when we learn that lobbyists are cashing in on public pensions, we are understandably upset. The lobbyists don’t work for the public, though some of their work benefits the public. Some is actually in direct conflict with the public’s well-being.

They are not accountable to the public. Their salaries can soar unchecked, which means so can the pension benefits for which they are eligible.

And, even though the number of individuals who qualify for this pension coverage is small — about 120 in a sea of 633,100 current state workers in the pension pool — it’s galling to realize they get this perk, of which most private workers can only dream.

When we hear of lobbyists making hundreds of thousands of dollars and having lavish state-paid pensions await their golden years, we intuitively know something is badly amiss.

Honest, hard-working New Yorkers are the benefactors of the greatest benefits of all — most earned, some not. That is a way of life in the Empire State.

But the line must be drawn at giving a state pension to someone who isn’t even employed by New York state. Whether it’s 120 people, 120,000 or one, it isn’t right.