In North Hempstead this morning, a bill-signing for Tier-V pension reform doubled as a tribute to outgoing Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi.
“There come these times in government where you’re in office at the wrong time,” said Governor David Paterson. “I kind of can relate to that. I was sworn in the day the Fed saved Bear Stearns. If I had known, I would have asked them to save me.”
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said he would be calling on Mr. Suozzi, with whom he’s certainly had his disagreements, “whether he’s in the public sector or the private sector.”
Mr. Suozzi called himself “the poster child of the ‘Public’s in a Bad Mood Movement.'” Earlier this year he lost his re-election bid by 386 votes.
In between eulogies to Mr. Suozzi, the parade of elected officials celebrated the reform bill as part of a long-term solution to the state’s precarious financial situation. The legislation creates a new “tier” of less-generous pension benefits for newly hired state workers, and comes after an acrimonious debate in which the governor threatened to lay off state workers.
“The issue really is that, for years, we were able to offer very generous packages to public employees, but as time has gone on, we simply do not have the reveneue to support it,” said Mr. Paterson, who stressed that the bill won’t help this year’s budget crisis, but could save the state $35 to $40 billion over the next quarter century. “The problem is that an unsustainable pension system isn’t going to help any of us. It’s just going to drive us deeper and deeper into debt.”
Asked about reports that his former running-mate Eliot Spitzer might run for office in 2010, Mr. Paterson deadpanned: “Did he mention that he was running for governor?” ( Mr. Spitzer has been floated as a candidate for nearly every possible post, but Mr. Paterson seems to prefer him as a comptroller candidate.)
The governor also reflected on a visit to North Hempstead in 2003, when he bad been invited to attend a ceremony on New Year’s Day. “I forgot that New Year’s Day was after New Year’s Eve,” the governor said. “I wouldn’t say that I had a hangover, I would say that I was still under the influence.” But, as the then-minority leader recalled, everyone was happy to see him, at least for a time. “I had five minutes of fame and then Chuck Schumer walked in and everybody wanted to talk him. And that was my moment.”