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The Empire

DiNapoli moves on to the budget as unions dig in over pension reform

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Courtesy of CSPAN

Governor Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders have relatively few remaining differences in this year’s budget, though ironing out all of the details will likely now prevent passage of the spending plan until later next week.

State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli has been at odds with Cuomo over pension reform, but praised the governor and lawmakers for being both conservative in their revenue estimates and prudent--so far--in their spending plans. Lawmakers are working on closing a $2 billion budget deficit, which is down from last year’s $10 billion gap.

“We don’t see the gimmicks that we’ve seen in past years. That’s good,” said DiNapoli.

The Comptroller does take issue, though, with the governor’s proposal to eliminate pre audits that his office conducts on some state contracts, saying “it takes away the opportunity” for his office to look out for taxpayer interests and the “best value” for the state.

The state Comptroller has largely sided with the unions in the fight over a pension reform package approved in all night session March 15. DiNapoli has said the plan, which required future public employees to pay more towards their pensions and receive less in return, won’t save state and local governments money in the short run.

But the Comptroller says now that the law has been enacted, his office will do its job and implement it. He says he questions the claims by Cuomo and lawmakers that the new pension tier will save $80 billion in future decades, saying there are “a lot of ifs” in that assumption.

He says one of the “key drivers” will be how many new workers are hired in a continued depressed economy.

“I don’t think you’ll see a robust hiring season for a while,” said DiNapoli.

DiNapoli says he’s pleased that Cuomo’s proposal to offer the option of 401(k)-type plans for all new hires was ultimately dropped. Only non-union hires who make more than $70,000 a year are eligible for the 401(k) option now.

Unions continued to express their displeasure.

On Monday, CSEA, the largest public workers union in the state, suspended all political endorsements and campaign contributions over the pension package. It says lawmakers traded the retirement security of future workers in exchange for new district lines, which were also passed in the all-night session. On Tuesday, the teachers union, New York State United Teachers, also held a demonstration.

NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi would not rule out refraining from endorsements for incumbent lawmakers in November, but he says the board and members have their own decision making process that concludes in August. He predicts, though, that the passage of the pension changes will be a factor.

“Are they going to be heavily influenced by what happened?” Iannuzzi asked. “Absolutely.”

The teacher’s union President says he’s willing to give legislators a second chance, and will also be evaluating them after the state budget is finished.

Iannuzzi says he is pleased that Governor Cuomo has signaled that he’s willing to give up on a key budget provision that teachers, and many lawmakers, have opposed. The governor had wanted to reserve $250 million of promised new school aid for competitive grants. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and others thought the money should go directly to the state’s poorest schools. Iannuzzi says he’s relieved that the governor now seems willing to go along with that change.

“He’s making a wise decision,” said Iannuzzi.

Budget conference committees were postponed for yet another day as legislators deliberated in private.