New York State is a pensioner’s paradise
Over the past year, we’ve gotten an increasing number of requests to expose certain public employees for “double-dipping.”
What this means is that an individual begins collecting a pension from their taxpayer-funded position, then gets hired or elected into another taxpayer-funded position where they can collect a full salary on top of a healthy pension.
I can understand why people might be angry about this practice, especially if they own a business or work in the private sector where pensions are not guaranteed. In essence, they’re saving toward their own retirement and, through tax payments, toward someone else’s too.
We’re hesitant to enter into this particular fray, however, because there is nothing illegal about this practice. The state allows people under 65 to collect a pension while working a second public sector job making over $30,000 a year — if they file what’s called a “211 waiver.”
If you’re over 65, no waiver is needed. Additionally, state law allows employees over 65 who began work before 1995 to continue in their same job, collecting their salary and pension at the same time.
Secondly, a state pension is a long-standing guaranteed entitlement funded by contributions from employees themselves. The only difference between a pension and an individual retirement account is that public pensions are better insulated against stock market fluctuations. When the market goes soft, taxpayers make up the difference.
Finally, where would we begin? Do we go after the retired policeman, professor or highway worker now serving as a mayor or town supervisor? What about elected officials who keep their position after age 65? Do we expose the pool of interim school superintendents whose experience is much needed at times of leadership transition? If retirees collecting pensions decide to remain in public life, should the money they saved themselves be held back?
The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle did a front page “Watchdog Report” on double-dipping Sunday which, in good journalistic form, raised the issue, gave some noteworthy examples — including the Lieutenant Governor and several members of the state assembly — and collected feedback on both sides of the issue.
Some believe the state should tighten up its rules regarding pensions and continuing employment. Others say pensioners deserve to collect their benefits and should not be limited in their future employment or public elected service. For the state’s part, the article reported that Governor Cuomo is closely reviewing the 211 waiver applications to keep a tighter grip on possible abuse.
We understand why the public sector appears to offer stronger wages and retirement benefits than the private sector. There was a time when the situation was reversed. The state, counties, municipalities and schools had to offer competitive job packages to keep employees from fleeing to the corporate world.
Private-sector wages have long-ago stopped rising, and in some cases, fallen. Few private sector employees receive guaranteed pensions anymore. In comparison, the public sector looks like a pensioner’s paradise.
The state should enact retirement reform to shrink spending and encourage turnover, leading to more jobs for younger prospective employees.
This should be done, however, without breaking the promise the public has made to its present retirees or those approaching their retirement.