Faddish fiscal phrases fly on pension payment plan

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Spin Cycle

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The most fashionable of fiscal slogans and buzz-phrases are flying over Gov. Andrew M. Cuomos proposal to quickly reduce pension expenses for local governments and school districts.

Cuomo would cut the required payments by allowing these localities to start paying a flat percentage year-to-year over a long period. One supporter of such a change, who suggested it last summer, is Sen. Jack Martins (R-Mineola), who said hes heard supportive reactions from local school officials.

Which brings us to the first battle-cry: Mandate relief!

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Skyrocketing pension rates are the number-one concern of local officials who must meet thise enormous obligations while complying with our new tax cap, said Martins, former mayor of Mineola.

After Cuomo and the Legislature enacted a cheaper Tier 6 pension for new employees, one of the putdowns from critics was that it didnt qualify as real mandate relief because the savings wouldnt be seen for many years, until these lesser-compensated new employees begin to retire.

So the governor, essentially, argues in favor of cashing in early on those future savings. Under this plan, Tier 6 would indeed begin to look like the treasured goal of mandate relief.

Critics of the proposal -- a curious mix of political conservatives and liberal Democrats -- see it more as mandate delay than mandate relief a mere gimmick to defer costs.

They have a cliche of their own to shout back: Kicking the can down the road!

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How do we know this plan is viable 25 years down the line? asked Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner, who happens to be co-chairman under Cuomo of the state Democratic Party. We might simply be financing another liability that we will not be able to pay.

New York Citys pension funds would be unaffected, but Mayor Michael Bloomberg was asked about it anyway and said: As a general policy, postponing, down the road, expenses that you are going to have every year is not a good policy. (Not that the city always resisted deferring pension costs.)

For State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, the states sole pension-fund trustee, who can nix the plan, the phrase du jour is serious concerns about funding levels. He has denied that he opposes the idea, or that hes criticizing Cuomo, but of course, voicing serious concerns is not synonymous with Hey, why didnt I think of that?

Now that mandate-relief, kicking-the-can, and serious concerns permeate the air, maybe hard bargaining and compromise plan will be next.

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