Even as the City Council begins its consideration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s stringent budget, some city workers are counting on their friends in Albany to support an irresponsible raid on the municipal treasury. Some people just don’t get it.
District Council 37, the huge municipal workers’ union, is hell-bent on getting Albany’s approval for a bill that would allow members to take advantage of an early-retirement package that was offered in—get this—1995. The bill would give DC 37’s workers another chance to retire with full benefits at the age of 55 instead of 62. Nice work, so to speak, if you can get it.
Meanwhile, nurses and midwives in city hospitals are lining up behind another bill that would allow them to retire at the age of 50. Their pensions and benefits would, of course, be picked up by those New Yorkers who sadly must remain in the workforce, often until the age of 65 or more.
Mayor Bloomberg is trying to put a stop to this outrageous, but typical, maneuver. He’s right, although given the political dynamics at work here, he has his work cut out for him. Public-employee unions are the favorite sons and daughters of Albany thanks to their generosity of spirit during the campaign season. If DC 37 wants something, you can be certain that Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver will see to it that it gets done. Other leaders often are equally complicit—Albany, after all, doesn’t have to pick up the bill for these outrages. The city does.
In a letter to Governor David Paterson, Mr. Bloomberg noted that the bill supported by DC 37 would cost the city an extra $200 million a year in pension and health-benefit costs. The bill for the nurses and midwives would cost an additional $60 million to $100 million. Mr. Silver is all for it, and his response speaks volumes about the oldest reliable permanent floating crap game that is Albany politics. The speaker says that the pension grab “is DC 37’s No. 1 priority.” Yeah, no kidding, Mr. Speaker. And what’s your No. 1 priority? The taxpayers whom you represent, or the unions? No need to answer—we can figure this one out ourselves.
Early retirement can be a useful tool when a state or municipality is looking to shrink its workforce without resorting to layoffs. But in this case, the workers who are demanding early retirement are not doing so with efficiency in mind. They simply want to start collecting their taxpayer-supported pensions as early as possible. Unfortunately, they have the support not only of Mr. Silver and his Democratic colleagues, but of some Republican state senators—you know, the folks who present themselves as “fiscally responsible.”
It will be up to the Senate majority leader, Joseph Bruno, or Governor David Paterson to come to the rescue of the city’s taxpayers.