Private Employees, Public Pensions and the Taxpayer

Here’s one to make your head spin. I hope I do the topic justice.

Sunday’s front-page story on the Times Union caught my eye. (It’s now available online.) The headline:

You pay for it: Tax dollars help cover pensions for private lobbying

Note to newspaper editors: putting “you pay for it” in the headline makes it more likely that I will read it. And this story, like so many others also increases my blood pressure. If you’ve got the time, I encourage you to read the whole story.

The TU reports that a number of private non-profits partake in the state’s public retirement system. Yeah… taxpayer funded pensions. It’s all perfectly legal, approved by the State Legislature decades ago. Groups such as the New York State School Boards Association (NYSSBA) and the New York Association of Counties (NYSAC) receive this publicly-funded benefit.

Did I mention that these group actively lobby the State Legislature? I’m starting to get twinges of “conflict of interest.”

Furthermore, many of their employees are paid quite well. Some receive solid six-figure salaries. No biggie, right? Sure, until I read this buried near the end of the TU story:

The leaders of the non-state agency groups, who can get raises without approval by the Legislature, may end up with pensions that well exceed what lawmakers, state commissioners, judges or governors will get in retirement. The payouts for everyone in the pension system are based on the top three years of compensation.

I cringed.

It gets better. These organizations are largely funded through dues paid by towns, counties, etc. Wait, make that taxpayers. But don’t worry, because they are looking out for the best interests of those government entities.

Also found out they provide periodic training. Again from the TU story:

Nick Caimano, a former member of the Warren County Board of Supervisors and, before that, a Queensbury town councilman, said he attended training sessions organized by the municipal associations and found them to be of little value. “If both those associations ceased to exist tomorrow, the only thing that would happen is that our local governments would have more money.”

And that makes me wonder about how this works in Schenectady County where I am running for County Legislature. After perusing the county’s nearly $300 million 2011 budget, (a great cure for insomnia, by the way), I discovered this line item:

Municipal Association Dues

This appropriation covers the cost of dues in various associations not specifically related to any one department.

The amount of this specific appropriation is $13,469. I’m guessing that it’s a portion of the dues paid to have groups like NYSAC “lobby” for the county.

Do these organizations provide a good service to the public? At this point, I’m not convinced. But I certainly want to know if we’re getting any bang for our buck, especially at the county level.

After all, whether it’s dues or pensions, we are paying for it.

6/22/11, 2 AM update: this post is also published on my campaign blog.

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  1. Private Employees, Public Pensions and the Taxpayer | Wade Abbott

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