The State Legislature, above, in Albany and Gov. Kathy Hochul...

The State Legislature, above, in Albany and Gov. Kathy Hochul should reject Tier 6 pension reforms. Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara

One under-the-radar budget battle in Albany pits public employees against the rest of the state's taxpayers. It's an unfair fight, as powerful unions and lawmakers of both major parties are supporting the public workers' desire to make generous pension plans even more generous.

Only a few advocates are fighting for taxpayers.

The “fix” lawmakers are proposing applies to Tier 6 — the most recent retirement deal established for those who joined public payrolls on or after April 1, 2012. More than half of New York's public workforce now sits in Tier 6. The change would calculate their pensions based on an average salary earned in their last three years of work, rather than the current five years. Since employees often earn the most in those final years, this change would hike nearly every Tier 6 employee's pension — and would retroactively increase payouts for those who've retired in the last two years.

That would hike pension costs for public employers, including local and state governments, schools, police departments and more. The Empire Center for Public Policy, a fiscally conservative think tank in Albany, estimates it would saddle taxpayers with $4 billion in new debt, about half affecting New York City. Proponents of the legislation estimate the cost to local and state governments in 2025 alone could total $196.3 million statewide.

State legislators — including several local Republicans — claim the change would encourage the recruitment and retention of public employees, suggesting Tier 6 is the main reason employees are leaving the public sector. But there are other factors at work. And it's unlikely that many public workers would leave a well-paid gig with a good pension for a private sector job with no pension just because their public pensions are slightly thinner than those who entered the system earlier.

Local governments — particularly school districts already complaining of tight budgets — certainly won't be able to hire more or increase wages if their pension contributions soar. And paying more taxes for increased benefits would make Long Island even more unaffordable.

The state teachers' union says changing Tier 6 is about “justice and dignity in retirement,” “solidarity and fairness” and “unity and power.” On the State Senate floor last week, Long Island Republican Sens. Alexis Weik, Dean Murray and Jack Martins backed the change, with Weik suggesting Tier 6 was “bad public policy” and Murray saying the state should either “fix it or nix it.”

No one mentioned the word “taxpayer.”

A Republican-controlled State Senate helped make Tier 6 a reality 14 years ago. Now, it seems the party has abandoned the posture of fiscal conservatism upon which Long Island's taxpayers have depended.

The State Legislature and Gov. Kathy Hochul should remember the millions of taxpayers, and thousands of government entities, that lack the power but will bear the brunt. They should “nix” any effort to “fix” Tier 6.

MEMBERS OF THE EDITORIAL BOARD are experienced journalists who offer reasoned opinions, based on facts, to encourage informed debate about the issues facing our community.

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