January 2017 Issue
February 01, 2017

Pensions pump $12 billion a year into the state's economy

Author: By Ned Hoskin
Source: NYSUT United

This is the fourth in a series about key reasons why an upcoming referendum to hold a state constitutional convention must be defeated. The series, "Open the state constitution? Heck, NO," examines topics — collective bargaining, public pensions, forever wild provisions, and public education and social welfare obligations — that would be at risk at a state constitutional convention.

"Think about retirement.

"Do you think you could manage it without your pension?

"Since your pension is guaranteed by the New York State Constitution, you shouldn't have to worry ... but you may.

"A constitutional convention is a serious issue that may have major impacts on your life. If you stay home and don't vote, that's the same as voting against your pension. You must protect your pension by voting no on Nov. 7. "

That's the opening segment in a video message created last fall by Max Strieb of the Smithtown Teachers Association on Long Island, led by President Laura Spencer.

New York State voters will be asked in November to decide whether the state should undertake the redrafting of the state's charter document — the state constitution. This election day referendum will overshadow all other decisions citizens will vote on, and the outcome could have far-reaching effects for decades to come.

Of all the issues raised by the threat of exposing the state's governance document to an overhaul, the one that might worry NYSUT retired and in-service members the most is the threat to public pensions.

And, as NYSUT retirees have noted, it's not only the threat to individual pensions, but the economic impact those pensions have on the state's economy. Consider:

  • Seventy-eight percent of NYSUT retirees live and spend in their home counties.
  • NYSUT retirees pay sales, county and local taxes in New York State.
  • Their pension spending — $12 billion per year — creates jobs statewide.
  • And, retirees make a strong foundation for local communities by volunteering and giving to charities.

"It's no secret to us at NYSUT that retired members contribute greatly through their energy and generosity to the union and their communities," said NYSUT Vice President Paul Pecorale. "Their contribution to the state's economy is just another reason not to undertake this fool's errand to reconsider every principle in the constitution."

"Since 2017 is an 'off' election year for the state Legislature as well as an 'off' election year for presidential voting, we need to concentrate our efforts on this important issue," said Executive Vice President Andy Pallotta. He strongly suggests that you get involved with your local union, if you are not already; stay active with the political process starting today, and get informed on the important issues surrounding a constitutional convention.

The best way to turn a "yes" or "maybe" voter into a "no" voter is by having a personal conversation with them about the referendum.

For example, you may be the best person to dispel some of the myths, like the whopper that most individual pensions run into the six figures. If a friend or family member insists the convention would rein in "excessive public pensions," you can explain that the average teacher pension is about $40,000, and the average state and local employee pension is about half of that.

For other stories in the series about the referendum on the constitutional convention, visit nysut.org/concon.

What you need to know

  • The constitutionally required 20-year referendum to propose a constitutional convention will be on the Nov. 7 ballot.
  • If the referendum passes, three convention delegates per state Senate District and 15 at-large delegates — 204 in total — would be elected at the next general election, in November 2018.
  • Delegates can include members of the Legislature or other elected officials, as well as political party leaders — and they can hold both positions, collecting both salaries.
  • The convention would meet in Albany in 2019 for an unspecified duration, and then publish its suggested amendments.

Any proposed changes are submitted to voters for approval separately or as a group for another public referendum no sooner than six weeks after the convention adjourns.