New York City Council Members Urge State Lawmakers to Overturn Governor’s Veto of Veteran Pension Bill

New York City

Last month, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo vetoed a bill that would have granted certain war veterans a “jump-start” toward drawing a state pension.

Some members of New York’s City Council are calling on state lawmakers to overturn that veto.

From the Queens Chronicle:

Members of the City Council’s Veterans Committee are urging state lawmakers to overturn Gov. Cuomo’s veto of a bill that would allow veterans who served during peacetime or undesignated conflicts to purchase up to three years of credit toward a state pension plan.

“We firmly believe that all military service is public service and therefore all honorably discharged veterans deserve access to the additional retirement credits this bill would afford,” a written statement by the members of the committee states.

The committee on Nov. 20 wrote to both Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Nassau) and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan), urging the two to direct their respective houses to vote in a special session of the state Legislature to override the veto of the governor.

Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park), chairman of the Veterans Committee, said the two leaders should “not allow Gov. Cuomo’s veto to essentially close the door on helping thousands of veterans who deserve the help the most.”

Cuomo’s thoughts on the bill:

Cuomo on Nov. 7 vetoed the bill, stating that it would “run rough-shod over systemic reforms carefully negotiated with the Legislature to avoid saddling local property taxpayers with additional, unmanageable burdens.”

“It is disheartening to see the Legislature reverse course only two years after it overwhelmingly agreed to avoid tossing these burdens onto local taxpayers in cities, towns, counties and school districts,” Cuomo added.

“But the Legislature has chosen to ignore its commitment to shield property taxpayers from the costs of the new statewide pension enhancements.”

The estimated first-year cost to city employers would be about $18 million, according to the bill.

Retirees Blast Mass. City Retirement Board For “Criminal” Cutbacks

Board room

Retirees, labor group leaders and even a city councilman are upset at the Leominster, Massachusetts Retirement Board after the Board voted to eliminate a cost-of-living increase in pension payments for the fifth straight year. Reported by the Sentinel and Enterprise:

“We think it’s unconscionable that our local retirees haven’t received a (cost-of-living increase) which they need,” Shawn Duhamel, the legislative liaison for the Retired State, County and Municipal Employees Association of Massachusetts, said Wednesday. “They are largely reliant on their pension as their sole income, so not having a cost-of-living increase for five years really hurts retirees, and we think it’s unnecessary.”

Out of 105 retirement systems in the state, Leominster is the only community to deny a cost of living increase in recent years, according to the association’s monthly newsletter. Somerville is the only other community to miss a cost of living increase dating to 1998.

Mayor Dean Mazzarella defended the retirement board’s decision not to increase benefits while it works to reinvest and fully fund its post employment financial requirements.

Critics have lashed out, in part, because the COLA denial comes in the wake of the Board’s above-average investment returns and the recent decision to lower its assumed rate of return.

The Board’s investments returned 21 percent in 2013, and the assumed rate of return was lowered from 6.5 percent to 5.5 percent. From the Sentinel and Enterprise:

If the retirement board maintained projects of 6.5 percent rate of return based on 2013 earnings the city’s post employment benefits obligation would be fully funded, Duhamel said.

Leominster should be proud of its long success, which is outperforming almost all others in the state, but instead of sharing the wealth with retirees is taking a different approach, Duhamel said.

The retirement board’s projection of lower returns puts a bigger burden on taxpayers to fund the program, Duhamel said.

The board’s rate of return on investments should justify a cost-of-living increase, said at-large City Councilor Bob Salvatelli.

“With that kind of impressive return we’re making off this thing, and not giving retirees a 3 percent raise, is criminal,” Salvatelli said. “It’s not even funny; it’s criminal.”

According to city estimates, giving retirees a 3 percent cost-of-living increase would cost the city $145,000 up front and would cost $900,000 over the life of the retirees who received it.