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McKinstry: Keep taxpayer-funded pension data public

If we lack specifics, it’ll be impossible to

If we lack specifics, it’ll be impossible to shine a proper light on the system. Credit: iStock

If sunlight is the best disinfectant then why do some New York lawmakers want to shut out its rays?

A bill that would clarify precisely what it means to be a state retiree – those collecting a taxpayer-funded pension – is being block by Republicans in the State Senate (It was approved in the Assembly). This legislation would actually clarify what it means to be a “retiree” versus a “beneficiary.”

Why does that matter?

A retiree is the person who is actually collecting a pension, sometimes upwards of six figures, while the beneficiary is a spouse or other eligible survivor. A retiree is subject to certain public disclosure and freedom of information laws while the beneficiary is not.

A few years ago, a lower court classified the two to be the same. While the ruling is now being heard at the state’s highest court, it ought to be clear that a retiree and beneficiary are not the same. The uncertainty stands to rob the public of knowing exactly how much an individual is collecting each year. That’s why the state Legislature should clarify the law.While that data might seem quite personal, and private, it’s a public expense – taxpayers do have the right to know.

Just today, the Empire Center for New York State Policy published its pension database. Its analysis found that one out of every six police and firefighters outside New York City qualified for pensions exceeding $100,000.

While that figure is telling, what’s more revealing are the individual figures. Here are a few:

- Topping the list is George Philip who is collecting $261,288.60 a year from the New York State Teachers Retirement System.
- Ivan Lisnitzer is collecting $245,497.20 a year after working for SUNY Health Science Center at Brooklyn.
- Edward Stolzenberg is collecting $222,862.80 after retiring from Westchester Health Care Corp.
- Josephine Delarosa, is collecting $201,695.04 after working for the Nassau Health Care Corp.

This list is long. With a little research and access to public records, it’s possible to understand how these workers and others managed to reap such high pensions. Sometimes, it highlights problems and inequities in the system. Sometimes, it's a fair payment.

Check out the list of the top 100 here.

A few years ago, I recall asking a union leader if he thought it was OK that one of his members was gaming thesystem by working gobs of overtimes just a few years before retirement,a tried and true way of padding one's pension. The leader essentially said, those are the rules. If there’s a problem, state officials should change them.

There’s no movement to actually limit or cut pensions for those who are eligible, even though those skyrocketing costs are among many pressuring the finances of localities and taxpayers. That's why lists like the ones published by the Empire Center and newspapers across the state are needed to understand how the system works.

If we lack specifics, it’ll be impossible to shine a proper light on the system.