News, views and commentary on Long Island, state and national politics.
ALBANY -- One member of a private sector lobbying group is getting a $78,075 pension each year, another gets $84,389, and another collects $95,128 -- all from New York’s public pensions system.
Two legislators on Tuesday released state records showing more than 70 retirees from private sector lobbying groups are in the public system created for local and state government employees.
“Our public pension system has been infiltrated by private lobbyists,” said Assemb. Sean Ryan (D-Buffalo).
The associations responded that they aren’t opposing the bill, but argued their service has long served local governments, school districts and their taxpayers.
Sen. George Maziarz (R-Newfane) who is co-sponsoring a bill to stop the little known practice said Monday that he suspects these private sector lobbying groups may be padding salaries in the final years of employment to boost the employees’ public pensions. But he said he can’t prove it because these groups -- which include the state Association of Counties, the state School Boards Association and the state Conference of Mayors -- aren’t subject to public disclosure laws.
The bills would end any further pension credits to these employees and prohibit new employees from joining the state pension system. The lawmakers said the state constitution may prohibit further action against those already in the system and would likely result in a lengthy legal challenge.
The Legislature had added the groups to the pension system decades ago. The employees of these groups then became eligible for the public pension.
The state Association of Counties said there has been no salary or pension passing there. Association of Counties President Mark Alger also said there is a “bright line” difference between his group and traditional private sector lobbyists.
“Do we lobby? Yes,” Alger said. “But the only ‘client’ this association has ever had and will ever have are the county officials, and the New Yorkers they represent ... We educate and train our county government officials through conferences, reports, white papers, webinars, magazines, news stories and other programs and services -- all of which lower the cost of county government for local taxpayers.”
The School Boards Association said its primary purpose is to provide a voice to local school board members to represent taxpayers and help schools.
“Contrary to assertions that we are ‘private lobbyists,’ our organization helps school districts operate more efficiently, provides training to school board members on fiscal management and other critical issues, offers guidance on new laws and regulations, and undertakes many other initiatives for the improvement of public schools,” said association spokesman David Albert.
“Since 1910, (the New York Conference of Mayors) has existed to help city and village officials do their jobs in the most efficient and cost effective manner,” said the association’s executive director, Peter Baynes.
“Legislative advocacy for proposals that strengthen local home rule is one way by which we represent local governments,” Baynes said. “State law affirms our important mission by authorizing city and village governments to pay dues to our association ‘for the purpose of devising practicable ways and means for obtaining greater economy and efficiency in the government thereof.’ "
The groups were created by public officials decades ago to provide expertise and legal advice. They also lobby for several issues including trying to curb the cost of public pensions created to benefit government workers, most of whom make less than $50,000 a year.
By contrast, the lawmakers noted that the executive directors of the school boards, counties and mayors groups average over $200,000 a year and are provided sport utility vehicles.
The measure targeting the powerful lobbying groups was part of the state budget bills negotiated behind closed doors and adopted March 31, until the final hours when they were removed, Newsday first reported days later.
“Somehow at the, I would say the 11:59th hour, it was taken off the table and each one of the two houses and the executive branch said it wasn’t them who took it off,” Maziarz said Tuesday. “So somehow it mysteriously disappeared from the table.”