Costly Considerations

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New York Governor David Paterson (D) took some heat when he said he wouldn't push for a Clean Elections public financing bill this year. He said it was for budget reasons but Bethany Foster of The Brennan Center wonders whether that budget shortfall was created by the kind of politics Clean Elections would help combat.

Paterson says there's no money for Clean Elections, but could that be because the legislators are basing the costs of a pension bill up for consideration on the estimates of a guy who works on behalf of the unions who would benefit from it?

Last month, we learned that legislators have been basing their assumptions about the cost of certain pension legislation on the estimates of Jonathan Schwartz, an actuary employed by unions whose membership would benefit from the bills.

In fact, Schwartz has provided fiscal analyses for hundreds of bills relating to New York City pension benefits, and his conflict of interest was exposed only after New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration put the latest bill's price tag at $200 million per year. Schwartz's estimate had been $200 million less than the city's - that is, $0 - even though the bill would have made many municipal employees eligible for early retirement benefits.

And what about these rather costly line items:


Similarly disturbing is news that hundreds of state employees may have gamed the system to receive much bigger pension checks than they should have been entitled to - and that state officials have not yet moved to examine pension formulas.

Topping this list of retirees is George M. Philip, who receives a pension of more than $260,000 each year. And that's on top of his $280,000 salary as the interim president of the University of Albany and his $100,000 consulting gig with the New York State Teachers Retirement System.

Also bringing home six-figure pension checks are a whopping 898 other retirees, more than half of whom were employed by Nassau and Suffolk Counties and the Port Authority, according to data obtained from the State and Local Retirement System by the Times Union.

Closing a few of those loopholes might create a budget climate where Clean Elections legislation could move forward -- but it's hard to close those loopholes when legislators depend on campaign cash from the beneficiaries and have incentive to look the other way.