ALBANY -- In a decades-old, but little known practice, some influential private-sector lobbyists also are vested in the state pension system.
Two lawmakers are redoubling their efforts to stop that after they say their proposal was abruptly dropped from closed-door budget negotiations. Their bill would prohibit private lobbyists, including employees of the powerful New York State Association of Counties and the New York Conference of Mayors, from continuing to be in the pension system intended for government workers.
"A press report brought this to light and ironically the very same day I saw the governor and he showed his displeasure. He had no idea," said one of the bill's sponsors, state Sen. George Maziarz (R-Newfane). "And most of my colleagues, they were completely unaware that lobbyists were getting state pensions -- and these are guys who control their own salaries."
Maziarz and co-sponsor Assemb. Sean Ryan (D-Buffalo) said the measure had been part of state budget negotiations, but was dropped before the budget deal was approved March 31. "They might have gotten a reprieve," Ryan said, "but the more people hear about this the more it is indefensible."
Ryan cited the New York State Association of Counties, which lobbies Albany on behalf of county governments. Among their top lobbying issues are pensions and securing state aid for municipalities.
"There is the ultimate irony here," Ryan said. "In particular with NYSAC, they lobby on pensions, unfunded government mandates and they tell you pension costs are a big problem for their clients," which are county governments. "But what they never say in their conversation is, 'By the way, we are huge pension beneficiaries ourselves.' "
In August, media reports stated that NYSAC Executive Director Stephen Acquario made $204,000 a year and although he wasn't a public worker, he was in the public pension system. His pension upon retirement would factor in his years of service and his salary.
He was among hundreds of lobbyists in at least 20 states who got public pensions because they represent associations of counties, cities and school boards, according to The Associated Press. State legislatures, including New York's, granted them access decades ago for their service to governments, often providing health benefits as well.
NYSAC spokesman Marc LaVigne said the association did not oppose the bill in negotiations.He said it still supports its lobbyists being in the pension system, saying they serve a government purpose even though they are in the private sector.
The bill also cites the state School Boards Association and the Association of Towns as part of the "prime example" of what must be fixed in the state pension system.
It seeks to block any more employees from the private lobbying groups from joining the state pension system. Maziarz hopes to get the lobbyists kicked out, but Ryan said that may be impossible under the state constitution once workers are allowed into the system.
A spokeswoman for state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, the sole trustee of the pension system, confirmed the bill had been part of budget negotiations, but didn't make the final deal.
Spokesmen for the mayors' conference, the school boards association and the towns association didn't respond to requests for comment. Cuomo also didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.