Governor Andrew Cuomo has given us quite a lot to think about in the last couple of weeks, and not all of it is pleasant.
He has told us that municipalities and school districts are not consolidating services and constituencies fast enough, and costing the taxpayers money. He’s told us that the schools are going to see no more money from the state in the coming budget. He’s told us the budget is coming out, and we will all have to tighten our belts a little more. New York, he says, can’t afford to do any more. Sure, there is a tax cap, but the Governor assures us there is no mandate relief in site for our counties, towns, or schools.
It’s disheartening, then, to see this headline in the Kingston Daily Freeman: NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo allows state police superintendent to draw $85,000 pension, plus $136,000 salary According to the AP story, Governor Cuomo has filed for a waiver to pay State Police Superintendent Joseph D’Amico his NYPD pension while he is earning the full salary and benefits afforded his current position. Cuomo’s reasoning for breaking his previous pledge not to do so? “…it had become “financially impossible” for him to keep his post without it.” Somehow, while working that old saw, the top people in our state government cannot manage to do more with less.
I don’t know Mr. D’Amico’s age, his abilities, or his financial situation. It’s really none of my business. I would not presume to tell him which of his necessities or luxuries to forgo, but I am sure he’s earned whatever he has.
I do assume that, after being nominated for the post by the Governor, and gaining confirmation by the Legislature, Joseph D’Amico is qualified for the job. He has already lasted longer than his three predecessors combined. That is not the question. Being paid by the state to work while taking your full retirement benefit is.
If you cannot afford to retire, keep your job. This is the choice millions make every day, and they make a whole lot less than $85,000 per year. If you cannot afford to do the job for what it pays, your choices are a little broader. Negotiate for more, don’t take the job, or find one that can support you. The answer, from the Governor’s point of view, should not be to give a back-door pay increase, but to do it openly if he feels it’s warranted. How can we hold our local police and fire personnel to higher standards than the state holds theirs?
I am not implying any malfeasance, criminal activity, or cover-up. What Governor Cuomo has done is perfectly legal, and, judging by the numbers, is in keeping with past practice. I am saying that this gives at least the appearance of impropriety, and will most likely infuriate the taxpaying and voting public when they find out about the “double dipping”. Telling said public that that we are down to 44 waivers for double dipping from the previous 110 is not likely to improve their mood. Our own Mayor Shayne Gallo can serve as an example to Governor Cuomo. Do more with less, and do it above-board.
This is too important to be left as a policy with a work-around. This must be dealt with as a law.
As a solution, I propose the following: The State Legislature should craft and pass a bill outlawing the practice for all public employees. Except in cases of extreme hardship (say, currently earning twice the federal poverty line or less), no public employee, elected, appointed, or hired, may draw funds on the NYS Pension Plan during their time of employment. Should you retire, begin drawing funds, and then resume work as a public employee, payments are suspended until you leave such employment. Your private employment after leaving government service does not affect your State Pension, unless you work for a registered lobbyist.
If, however, the Governor feels that the pay for any job is not high enough to keep the proper personnel, he should be free to take the matter up with the legislature, and have them include the increase in the next budget.
The legislature should not be allowed to exempt themselves, their staffs, or anyone from the law. Legislators and the Governor would, in this one case, avoid the appearance of unethical behavior for passing such a bill. Waivers would become a thing of the past, and we would all be a little better off.
You can help. Our own New York Assemblyman Kevin Cahill has spent a great deal of effort on opening up the workings of our government to it’s people. I am sure he would be interested in hearing from you in support of such legislation. Newly minted State Senator Cecilia Tkaczyk has said she is looking forward to working with us, as well. Just scroll over the name and click. You will end up at the official contact page, and you can let your legislator know what you want.
Some will say that this approach is naive. It may be, but I am sure that it far more naive to expect that our elected officials will make a move to change the way things are without our encouragement and support.