Rochester, N.Y. -- Through the misty stench that defines the New York State budget process, some things have actually become clearer as we approach the April 1 deadline.
First of all, the very idea of putting pension reform in the state budget should curl the toes of those who understand the 90 year history of the NYS Retirement System and how the state constitution works.
Pensions are constitutionally guaranteed and should not be part of the budget process. They are fully funded programs that provide necessary retirement security for a veritable lifetime of public employment. In 2010, union rank-and-file public workers accepted many significant concessions in a new Tier 5. They included lower wages, a long-term pay freeze and paying higher contribution rates for health insurance and retirement plans.
The 401(k) option is just a bad bet for future workers and for all New Yorkers. These risky plans should never replace defined benefit funds—they should only supplement options for the very high wage earners like top management jobs including state legislators and the executive branch employees of state government.
The thinly disguised attack on public pensions by corporate CEOs, who by the way have million-dollar pensions themselves, support Cuomo’s plan that would make a 40 percent cut to the retirement security of firefighters, librarians, teachers, nurses, school bus drivers, and police officers-- the very people doing public service jobs that all New Yorkers depend on. We shouldn't hand over billions of taxpayer dollars from our pension funds to the reckless Wall Street goons who crippled our pensions and crashed our economy in the first place.
Tax the rich in a meaningful way
Another big question exists-- when will New York residents support elected officials and candidates who will tax the rich in a meaningful way? Despite what Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks and Gov. Cuomo say, we are not broke and we don’t have a spending problem. We need to overhaul the tax codes and generate revenues that are fair for all New Yorkers. A 1 percent tax increase on the world’s biggest corporations doing business in New York, the multi-millionaires and billionaires living and doing business here is both cowardly and tokenism at its worst. The tax reform that the state legislature addressed at the end of last year hardly went far enough.
The banking industry, corporations and the super-rich should be made to return the money they stole from middle-class taxpayers a few years ago. If Gov. Cuomo and other elected officials like Maggie Brooks continue to force poor and working people to pay for the "deficit" created by the rich and federal defense spending, we should think really hard about keeping them in office. We should be challenging their ideas at every turn.
We at the Voice Reporter do not accept the fact that they are creating a lower standard of living for the middle-class, while at the same time placating the mega-rich who are insulated from any financial harm. Cuomo and Brooks are not representing the best interest or the common good—not taxing the rich accordingly is unacceptable regardless of which party sells us out. These are two rational elected officials making really irrational decisions. And, blaming public pensions as the reason why local governments might go bankrupt is just plain wrong on a multitude of levels. It’s deceitful, mean-spirited and completely inaccurate.
For the past several years, New Yorkers have been disenfranchised from the electoral process, and from any semblance of democratic decision-making. We have been bought and sold by corporate hooligans and elected officials who take their marching orders from their big donors.
The only way out of this is to fight back against these operatives and expose them for who they truly are. Continuing to support the "lesser of two evils" is suicidal when the only choices we are given consist of elected officials and "candidates" chosen by those who care less about growing our economy and stabilizing the middle-class and more about their own welfare and their own bottom line. Wake up New Yorkers. This is more than just a difference in ideology. Cuomo, Brooks and multi-national corporations pull all the strings here and are creating a new “Empire State” right under our noses-- one for the haves and one for the have-nots.
-This commentary does not necessarily reflect the opinion of CSEA as an organization.