Reactions To Mandate Relief Team's Pension Recommendation Show Polarization Over Public Employees

WRVO – Governor Cuomo's Mandate Relief Team released its report earlier this week on how to provide mandate relief for counties and municipalities in the state.

Spokesman for the state's largest workers union - The Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA) - Stephen Madarasz says that even caught members of the team by surprise.

"There was no final meeting of the team," he says. "There was no meaningful opportunity for our member on the team to have an opportunity - or any other member of the team, for that matter to have an opportunity - to review the recommendations before they went out to the media. They were released at 5:15 in the afternoon, about 5 minutes after they had been forwarded to the members of the team for review."

The chair of the Mandate Relief Team is a top aide to the governor.

Madarasz and the CSEA take issue with one of the recommendations that the state create a Tier 6 pension plan for state employees that would also require employees to contribute more of their paychecks to their pension plans.

"When we come down to the issue of the Tier 6 reform," Madarasz says, "there's no deal that's offered with it, and we find that it's just a gratuitous attack on public sector workers to create the impression that we need dramatic reform, when in fact there are absolutely no actions recommended for dealing with existing abuses within the system."

Senior Fellow with the Manhattan Institute's Empire Center for New York State Policy, E.J. McMahon agrees that the Tier 6 element of the mandate relief report is overly vague. He stresses it's just a suggestion at this point, but he says he'd like to see it go even further.

"A really transformative change would be to depart from the traditional defined-benefit pension system," says McMahon. "There's no hint of that in this report."

"On the other hand," he says, "the Cuomo administration is still not shutting the door on that either. I think that basically, like the rest of the mandate relief report, this proposal sort of buys time and points to a general goal without producing any specifics."

He says pension reform is a necessary measure to cut state pension costs, and public employees have to do their part to help in that process.

McMahon says no organization has more power and influence in New York state government than public employee unions - more than they let on.

"Public employees - on average - earn more than private sector workers, and have much more generous benefits," he says.

But Madarasz with the CSEA says that's not true.

"Even the governor's office was putting up a chart," he says, "that showed the typical state employee - and that includes political appointees - when you look at the comparison of public to private sector, public sector employees still earn less than their private sector counterparts here in New York."

Governor Cuomo announced on Wednesday he is putting together a team to negotiate with public sector unions to cut $450 million in state costs, or else he'd have to resort to nearly 10,000 layoffs.