Joye Brown has been a columnist for Newsday since 2006. She joined the newspaper in 1983 and has
If you had to vote, right now, on a provision to change the state constitution to allow revocation of pensions for public officials convicted of corruption-related charges, what would your answer be?
Probably it would be yes, because why would Long Islanders, already juggling high state and local taxes, agree willingly to continued investment in convicted pols?
Ah, but what seems so right, so simple, in the moment isn’t in the works right now — no matter the news Wednesday that former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre), who was convicted on corruption charges in December, will be entitled to a $95,831 annual pension.
Keep in mind that the state legislature, back in 2011, enacted a pension forfeiture law, which allows judges to rescind constitutionally-protected pensions for public officials.
But the measure applies only to officials who took office after 2011 — which, in Albany, had the effect of having almost no effect at all.
Most of the state’s senators and assembly members, for example, were elected before 2011 — to a body that has a better than 90-percent re-election rate, thanks to the power that incumbency gives members to craft election districts that discourage competition.
A recent directory of lawmakers showed that just 31 of the 63 senators and the 150 assembly members were subject to the 2011 law.
Which makes it no surprise then that Skelos will keep his pension. Just as former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who also was convicted of corruption in December, will keep his $79,224 a year pension.
According to an August report by Michael Gormley, of Newsday’s Albany bureau, at least 13 former state elected officials convicted of corruption and other charges were eligible for more than a total $604,000 a year in pension payments.
That total has since grown.
And given the deep roots of incumbency in Albany, it could grow even larger in the years to come.
Get elected to a public job.
Abuse the responsibility, and the public’s trust.
Get a conviction.
And keep that pension.
That’s not right.
And lawmakers know it.
In 2014, freshman state legislators — many of whom were in public jobs before becoming lawmakers, thus exempting them from the 2011 law — tried to seek changes in the state constitution to deny pensions to convicted officials.
The effort failed.
So have other efforts, dating back to 2005.
As of last month, according to a Newsday report, there were some 10 active bills with multiple sponsors held up in legislative committees.
Lawmakers need to get moving, to pass sensible legislation that will move the state constitution question, via referendum, to voters, which likely would not be until 2018.
Then we would get to make the choice.
Which, believe me, should come easy.