Empire State Officials Battle over Pension Payments

April 19, 2004 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - New York state Comptroller Alan Hevesi is enlisting the help of 235,000 Empire State pensioners to fight Governor George Pataki's plan to cap employer pension contributions at 6.5% of payroll - saving governments $1.3 billion annually.

Hevesi’s “Dear Retiree” letters, being mailed from Albany this week, exhort the pensioners to call Pataki, their state senator, and their Assembly member to weigh in on the issue, the Albany Times-Union reported.

Part of the dispute is over the fiscal health of the state’s $118-billion plan. Pataki and local government officials have argued that Hevesi is being overly cautious and that the pension fund’s assets far exceed payouts needed for pensioners.

Carole Stone, Pataki’s budget director, told the newspaper that Hevesi calculates the fund’s finances much more conservatively than almost every state. If he used other common methods, the fund wouldn’t even need the 6.5% Pataki and local leaders now propose, some budget analysts said.

For his part, Hevesi is demanding 12% from most employers and 17% from police and fire departments, or a total of $3 billion from state and local governments.

Hevesi blames the need for “normal” 12%-17% contribution rates on the downturn of the stock market caused by the 9/11 attacks and corporate scandals. The fund got by with little or no contributions during the soaring stock market of the early part of the decade, he said, but in the 1970s and 1990s an 18% employer contribution was normal.