New York State Exposed Follow-up: Lobbyists retiring on taxpayer dollars

Updated: 06/30/2014 6:29 PM
Created: 06/30/2014 6:48 AM WHEC.com
By: Brett Davidsen

They don’t work for the state, but they are getting a taxpayer funded state pension. It will now be another year before any action might be taken to strip a group of Albany lobbyists from the state pension system. Despite widespread support, the bill never made it to a vote.

Senator George Maziarz said, "I'm disappointed that it didn't pass and won't be signed into law this year, but I think that next year, this bill is probably going to move a little bit further in the process."

Senator George Maziarz called it a priority. He introduced legislation to cut off the benefit after hearing that a handful of private lobbyists were receiving a taxpayer-funded state pension. 

Maziarz said, "I just think that out of sense of fairness that they should not be in the system."

Last November, News10NBC reported there are eight non-profit corporations that were grandfathered into the state retirement system decades ago, despite the fact they aren’t state workers. They advocate for municipalities or school boards.  News10NBC discovered there are 123 people working for the eight groups and another 87 who are retired and collecting a public pension. In total, those retirees are taking home $2.1 million a year. 

Maziarz said, "So there are private sector employees that are subsidized by the taxpayers."

The associations face no public oversight and several of their employees are pulling down six figure salaries. Their pensions are based on those salaries.

Peter Baynes said, “I think there's a totally legitimate, logical public policy reason for us to be in the retirement system because of our connection with local governments."

Peter Baynes is the executive director of the New York Conference of Mayors. Baynes earns $186,000 a year. Ironically, NYCOM often lobbies legislators to cut spending and state benefits.

Brett Davidsen asked, “Is it hypocritical to be calling for those types of cuts and then be receiving that benefit?”

Baynes said, "I don't think it's hypocritical at all. I would say thank goodness we are here."

In fact, according to the Associated Press, New York is among 20 states that provide pension benefits to private lobbyists. News10NBC raised the issue with the governor when he was in Rochester last week and asked his thoughts on the inclusion of these groups in the state pension system.

Governor Andrew Cuomo said, “Pensions are fundamentally for state workers, right? And that's what this was about. And if it were an undue expansion, I would be all for rolling it back."

Cuomo says he believes the number of people in the pension system has grown way too large.

Governor Andrew Cuomo said, "My instinct is to reduce the cost and reduce the universe whenever possible."

Despite support in both the Senate and Assembly, legislation to cut the pension benefit to future employees of the eight lobbyist groups never made it to the floor for a vote. Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle says many lawmakers he spoke with asked for more time to review the bill.

Joe Morelle said, "A number of my colleagues expressed some concern. They thought that having a local government association as being able to talk about unfunded mandates and challenges of local government was very important."

Maziarz says he will re-submit the legislation at next year's session.  

If you want to let your legislator know how you feel about lobbyists receiving pensions and the  pending legislation, contact them here.

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