The measure to ban employees who work for private, nonprofit associations from participating in the state’s pension system is an attempt to right a wrong.
These nonprofits, many of which actually push pension reform, should never have been allowed access to the state’s pension system in the first place. The proposed ban on those pensions was included in the state budget up until the very end of the process in March, when it was suddenly stripped from the budget. That’s too bad. It should have remained.
These nonprofits are independent entities that contract with municipalities. They have names that suggest that they are government-related, such as the Association of Counties, the Conference of Mayors and Municipal Officials, the Association of Counties and the School Boards Association.
Their top officials call what they do advocacy. Others call it lobbying. Either way, money these groups collect from municipalities in the form of annual dues comes from taxpayers, as do the state-funded pensions many of their employees receive.
Many other groups have government-sounding names but are not in the state pension system.
The issue has come up in the past only to fade away. Now, Sen. George Maziarz, R-Newfane, and Assemblyman Sean Ryan, D-Buffalo, have taken it on. They are pushing for legislation that would bar future workers at the associations from being able to join the state pension system, in addition to a companion bill barring current workers from accruing any more time that would boost their pension payments.
David Albert, a spokesman for the New York State School Boards Association, was among those objecting to a ban. He said the pension benefits have been available since 1952. The law was expanded in 1989 by the Legislature and signed by then-Gov. Mario Cuomo to permit any school board association to be a member of the state and local government pension system. But the fact that a bad practice has been in place for more than 60 years is not a reason to keep it in place.
Additionally, the associations want a government benefit even though they do not have to play by the same rules as a governmental entity in terms of salary disclosure and the Freedom of Information Law.
These nonprofits make a strong argument that they provide not only advocacy but training on financial matters and provide information about new laws and regulations. The groups point out that they do not contribute campaign money to candidates and do not make political endorsements.
That’s all fine; those are certainly the proper stands for organizations funded by the public. The point remains, though, that only government employees should be part of the state pension system.