Faso Calls for Law To Replace Pensions With Savings Plans

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The New York Sun

ALBANY — The Republican candidate for governor, John Faso, called yesterday for a state law that he said would save taxpayer dollars by replacing traditional public pensions with retirement savings plans for newly hired public workers.

“It’s a generational savings that would accrue to the taxpayers,” Mr. Faso said. “Over 20 years, that kind of thing would really save taxpayers money … We have to have dramatic change in New York State.”

The plan would gradually eliminate costly pensions for public employees, an expense increasingly blamed for growing local government and school property taxes. Mr. Faso would allow the state, school districts, and local governments to offer new workers only 401k-type retirement funds, with the employee and employer contributing a percentage of wages each pay period.

The issue wouldn’t be subject to union negotiations.

But any such plan would face a difficult ride in the Legislature if opposed by Albany’s powerful public employee unions.This election year, for example, lawmakers showered the unions with added protections and other benefits.

Stephen Madarasz, a spokesman for the Civil Service Employees Association, the largest state government employees’ union, called the Faso proposal unacceptable.”The average CSEA member’s public sector pension is $13,000 a year, and we don’t think that’s anything to be apologizing for. People are not getting wealthy off the public employee pension,” he said. The CSEA tends to represent blue-collar state employees.

Mr. Faso said the funds would be similar to the 401k savings plans offered in the private sector. He said employees would benefit by having a retirement fund they could take with them to other private or public sector jobs.

The plan would allow employees to invest a percentage of their wages, and the employer would contribute roughly 7% of salary each pay period, Mr. Faso said. Depending on how much an employee chooses to invest in the stock market or other securities, the savings plan could be riskier than a pension. A public pension is based on years of service and salary and typically doesn’t have a provision for an employee to save a larger share of wages, as they can in a 401k plan.

The Democratic front-runner, Eliot Spitzer, opposes the idea, a Spitzer campaign spokeswoman, Christine Anderson, said.

Mr. Faso said he is also open to the alternative of creating a new “tier” of lower pension benefits for new public employees.

Democrat Thomas Suozzi, who plans to challenge Mr. Spitzer in the September 12 primary, calls for a new pension tier to reduce the cost of pensions “substantially over time,” Mr. Suozzi’s policy director, Harry Siegel, said.

Mr. Suozzi “does not support leaving workers’ pensions entirely uninsured and at the mercy of the market,” Mr. Siegel said.

Most polls show Mr. Spitzer with a better than 50-percentage point lead over Mr. Suozzi and Mr. Faso.

The New York Sun

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