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New York Post

 

Windfall No Cure-All

February 19, 2009

By Nicole Gelinas

Pension Reform Still a Must

In a year's time, pension and benefit costs will grow to more than $13.5 billion, consuming nearly a third of city taxes.

Funding these costs decimates the city's ability to deliver core services - starting with the NYPD. Plus, the stimulus law requires us to spend well over 70 percent of our windfall on education and health care - two bloated parts of the budget that we should be cutting.

Bottom line: The mayor must not give up on his drive to require workers to contribute to their own health plans, saving $357 million a year.

And the city needs him to keep pushing the unions and Albany to agree to a new pension plan, requiring new workers to make higher contributions, and raising the minimum retirement age for uniformed workers to 50.

Bloomberg must not yield to the temptation to shut up about these issues - not even if Albany powerbrokers try to make that a condition for getting our fair share of the stimulus cash.

In fact, he should push for more: Asking civilian workers to work 'til 62 would save money - as would stopping the $100 or so monthly payment for retirees' Medicare premiums.

Plus, as The Post recently reported, nearly three-quarters of city firefighters are retiring on disability - and thus getting pensions of three-fourths of full pay rather than half. (And no, 9/11-related injuries don't explain this - the trend started before the terror attacks.)

City Hall should start poring through pension-fund data to see if these disability rates are borne out by lower life expectancies. More, it needs to start facing another big problem that The Post report brings up: Pensions are calculated from a retiree's last few years of working income, and city workers often put in tons of overtime in those final years - vastly boosting their retirement income.

As the city's Independent Budget Office notes, only 6 percent of US state and local employees get overtime counted toward their pensions.

Pension benefits are supposed to replace part of a worker's lifetime income, not reward people who exploit the rules. Bloomberg should start lobbying Albany for a big change here. More, he needs to make sure that workers aren't gaming the system - that's a management issue, not an Albany issue.

These reforms, taken together, would save hundreds of millions in their first few years - and far more later on. But if our leaders use the stimulus as an excuse, and opt to wait, we'll find ourselves in even worse trouble very soon.

Original Source: http://www.nypost.com/seven/02192009/postopinion/opedcolumnists/windfall_no_cure_all_155890.htm

 

 
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