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Getting pensive about pensions

Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, seen here on May

Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, seen here on May 9, 2017, will headline a summit on shared municipal services. Credit: Howard Schnapp

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Daily Point

Pension payments

When state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli came to Newsday last week for his election-season interview, the talk turned to municipalities borrowing from the state to pay annual pension costs, which is known as pension amortization. The Point asked for specifics, and it turns out that Suffolk and Nassau counties lead the state in this kind of borrowing by an extraordinary margin.

The practice began in 2011 when state lawmakers tried to find a way to soften the effect of skyrocketing pension tabs. They created a program to let municipalities spread out each year’s bill over 10 years, later changing the term to 12 years. After the 2008 stock market crash, the funds over which DiNapoli is sole trustee plummeted from $154 billion in value to $109 billion in less than a year.

Since 2011, 223 government employers statewide have borrowed a total of $1.8 billion to fund their contributions. Suffolk County owes $273 million, and Nassau County owes $236 million. The Nassau Health Care Corp., which owns Nassau University Medical Center, owes another $41 million.

The next biggest debtors are Westchester County at $81 million, the City of Yonkers at $71 million and Monroe County at $41 million.

Suffolk’s proposed 2019 budget calls for it to break the borrowing habit, after amortizing $32 million in 2018.

Nassau, which amortized $25 million in 2018, has proposed to borrow about $16 million next year, which means it could pass Suffolk for the State Pension Borrowing Championship that Long Island has come to dominate.

Lane Filler

Talking Point

Democrat’s new TV ad in CD2

Democrat Liuba Grechen Shirley is out with her second TV ad, “Simple Choices,” featuring women who say they have voted for Rep. Peter King but this year are going with the 2nd Congressional District challenger.

Policy-wise, the 30-second spot focuses on King’s vote for the American Health Care Act of 2017, the Republican-led attempt to get rid of Obamacare. Grechen Shirley’s first TV ad also was about health care, which Democratic challengers on Long Island see as a potent issue.

Strategy-wise, the ad targets crucial independent or moderate Republican voters who tend to side with King in less partisan election cycles. In a post-Brett Kavanaugh moment, it also focuses on women.

“Simple Choices” is running on close to 30 outlets, including CNN, MSNBC and News 12, according to Grechen Shirley’s campaign.

King, a Republican seeking his 14th term, has a much larger war chest than his opponent and is using a chunk of it on TV.

“I have 2 ads running at combined $175,000 per week and both feature women,” King said in a statement emailed by his spokeswoman to The Point. “I sense more support from women than ever and outrage from them at how Democrats attacked Kavanaugh. Having said that, I don’t believe in gender stereotyping.”

Mark Chiusano

Pencil Point


Final Point

Writing Hooper on

Earlene Hooper is not giving up her Assembly seat, or those per diems, without a fight. The dominant Democrat and deputy speaker of the State Assembly was defeated in September’s primary in the 18th District by newcomer Taylor Raynor. Unlike Tony Avella, the state senator from Queens who lost a primary to John Liu but remains on two other ballot lines, Hooper has no ballot-box fallback. Raynor, with the help of the Nassau County Democratic Party, is also on the Working Families, Reform and Women’s Equality lines. Republican candidate James Lamarre also has secured the Conservative line.

So Hooper’s only path to winning the seat again is a write-in campaign being talked about by some local pastors and others in community groups who have benefited from state grants she has brought to the district. The odds of a write-in campaign succeeding are slim: Even though Hooper has represented the district for 30 years, only 46 percent of likely primary voters recognized her name in a pre-primary poll.

Rita Ciolli