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The Empire

Bloomberg, elected leaders visit Albany to push for pension reform

By Karen DeWitt, New York State Public Radio Capital Bureau Chief

Katen DeWitt / NY State Public Radio

New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, along with mayors and county leaders from around New York, came to the state Capitol to support Governor Andrew Cuomo’s push for pension reform, saying they are “crashing and burning” under the rising costs.

Bloomberg, who organized the lobbying trip, says the issue is very simple—pension payments are driving municipalities to near bankruptcy.

“We really are up against it,” said Bloomberg. “We are going to have fewer services, we are going to have fewer employees, and in some cases we are going to have higher taxes if this continues.”

The Mayor and other city and county leaders from Rochester, Syracuse, Westchester and Suffolk say they’ve begun a bipartisan lobbying effort to back Governor Andrew Cuomo’s plan to enact a new benefit tier for future public workers. It would have reduced pension payments and for the first time, include an option of a 401(k)-style plan.

The mayors say they planned meetings with several key legislators to hope to convince them to adopt the governor’s plan, though Bloomberg had harsh words for the legislature’s policy on pensions over the years, which he called a “charade.”

“They keep going on and on, having both sides of every single issue,” Bloomberg said.

Bloomberg says when he first took office, annual pension costs were $1.5 billion a year for the City, now they are eight billion dollars annually.

State worker unions have opposed the proposed pension changes, saying future workers would see their retirement benefits reduced by as much as 40 percent, or, if they choose 401(k)s, will be subject to gyrations of the stock market. Governor Cuomo has said in recent days that he is “flexible” on whether the 401(k) option needs to be included in a pension reform agreement with the legislature.

“It’s not a philosophical debate,” Cuomo said Wednesday. “It’s about saving money.”

Cuomo says if the legislature can come up with an alternative plan that saves the $113 billion dollars that the governor estimates can be saved in future decades, then he’s willing to consider it.

Mayor Bloomberg says he’s not going to “complicate” Cuomo’s efforts by insisting on the 401(k) option for the pension reform plan, but he says defined benefit plans have become largely unaffordable.

Senate Republicans have said they are open to Cuomo’s pension reform changes, Assembly Democrats have not yet committed to it, and some Democrats oppose the plan.