2014 Benefit Sweetener Scorecard
Now that New York State’s fiscal year 2015 budget has been adopted the legislature is moving on to other business. Bills that “sweeten” or enrich public employee pensions and benefits are typically taken up during the last weeks of session. To help curb this costly activity CBC publishes an annual Benefit Sweetener Scorecard. This year’s highlights 24 bills that have been introduced this session; some are beginning to advance toward passage. The status of each bill is identified in the Scorecard along with key sponsors and progress to date. Six of the bills are not accompanied by fiscal notes, but those that are would increase fringe benefit costs for State and local governments by an estimated $1.8 billion. As the bills move through the legislative process the Scorecard will be updated.
The most costly bill is A4890, introduced by Assembly members Peter Abbate and William Colton, which would increase the percentage of final average salary used to determine pensions paid to members of pension Tiers III, IV, and V from 1.5 percent per year of service to 2.0 percent for retirees with more than 30 years of service. This bill was also introduced last year with a fiscal note that estimates the measure would add $1.1 billion for past service costs and additional employer contribution costs of 0.2 percent annually for members of these already generous pension tiers.
Another repeat this year – A4920 introduced by Assembly Members Abbate, Colton, Cook, Cusick, Englebright, and Weisenberg – would allow members of pension Tiers I and II in the New York State and Local Employees Retirement System (NYSLERS) and the New York State and Local Police and Fire Retirement Systems (NYSLPFRS) to include 30 days of unused vacation time in the calculation of final average salary. The fiscal note estimates the measure will cost $155 million, including a one-time cost of $99 million.
The repeat “presumption” bill A6793/S3785, introduced in the Assembly by Peter Abbate and in the Senate by Tom Libous, would grant disability pension benefits to police officers and firefighters who contract Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA) regardless of whether the illness was actually contracted during the performance of duties. The MRSA bill has advanced to third reading (the step before consideration on the floor) in the Senate.
New to the Scorecard are bills that would add lung diseases for State corrections officers and security hospital treatment assistants to the list of medical conditions for which members can receive disability pensions of 75 percent of salary (A9030) and a measure that would lower the age at which the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) to retiree pension payments goes into effect from 62 to 55 (S6785). The lung disease presumption bill would increase annual pension contributions for New York State by $1.8 million, but the COLA bill does not include a fiscal note.
A number of bills would add to the costs of specific local governments. A4922/S4149 extends the provisions of the “heart bill” to Deputy Sheriffs in the New York City Employee Retirees System (NYCERS) adding the presumption that all heart-related ailments stem from the performance of duties. A2589, sponsored by Assembly Member Titone, would expand eligibility for Variable Supplement Fund (VSF) payments to retirees on disability pensions and others, adding to pension costs for New York City. Disability benefits for Nassau ambulance personnel and Suffolk probation officers would be increased by A9051/S6810 and A8160/S5153 respectively.
Four potentially expensive bills that would limit cost-saving options for local governments or add costs for other kinds of fringe benefits are included in the Scorecard. A bill that would prohibit the diminution of health insurance benefits for retirees of the State, local governments, school districts, and public authorities and their dependents (A902/S3627), and tie the hands of managers seeking to curb rapidly rising health insurance costs has advanced to third reading in the Senate. A bill sponsored by Assembly Member Pretlow (A3923) would allow current and retired school board members with 10 years of service to receive State health insurance. Two bills would provide additional paid leave for cancer screening; four hours of paid leave for public employees and officers for screening for cervical cancer (A8471/S2069) and eight hours of paid leave for screening for colon cancer (A658). Fiscal notes for the additional leave-time bills are not provided.
By Elizabeth Lynam
 Fiscal notes for bills that affect the retirement system are required by Article 3, § 50 of New York State’s Legislative Law, which reads “A bill which enacts or amends any provision of law relating to a retirement system or plan of the state of New York or of any of its political subdivisions shall contain a fiscal note stating the estimated annual cost to the employer affected and the source of such estimate.” Fiscal notes for other legislation are required by the Permanent Joint Rules of the Senate and Assembly with exceptions for bills covered by § 50, those requested by local jurisdictions or offering local option, and various other reasons. See New York State Assembly, Rules of the Assembly, “Permanent Joint Rules of the Senate and Assembly” (accessed May 8, 2014), http://assembly.state.ny.us/Rules/?sec=jr.