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Bitter Truth

Many Benefit Sweeteners Lack Required Fiscal Estimates

June 06, 2018

To date the New York State Legislature has introduced 139 bills in this session that enhance the benefits of state and local public employees. How much these bills could cost taxpayers is unknown.  Despite statutes mandating fiscal notes that detail costs, more than two-thirds of the bills introduced lack any public estimate of their expenses. The cumulative retroactive and first year costs for the remaining one-third of bills totals $483 million. As a matter of common sense, the Legislature should not adopt any bill without an understanding of how much it will cost. 

A fiscal note has been required for bills that impact state and local retirement plans since 1971.1 The fiscal note is prepared by a certified actuary of the State and Local Retirement System or the New York City Pension Funds and is incorporated into the text of the bill. Typically these notes spell out the immediate budgetary cost to provide the retirement enhancement and include estimates of the increase in long-term liabilities. Other cost estimates, such as those calculated or reported by legislative staff, may also be included in a sponsor’s memo.

There is no statutory requirement imposed on bills that do not affect retirement systems; however, the Permanent Joint Rules of the Senate and Assembly require fiscal impact notes for any bill that would have a fiscal impact on a municipality, which would include many benefit sweeteners.2 The Senate rules go even further and require a fiscal note for any bill that would impact state revenues or expenses.3

Despite these legal and regulatory requirements, many bills containing benefit sweeteners are introduced, moved, and even adopted, without a proper accounting of potential costs. The lack of fiscal accountability stretches across all categories of benefit sweeteners. In the current session 15 of 69 bills affecting retirement systems, 15 of 31 bills impacting death or disability benefits, 17 of 20 miscellaneous bills, and all 19 bills improving health insurance or leave allowance do not have fiscal notes. Even the bills with fiscal notes leave much to be desired; instead of providing an estimate of potential costs, they often describe how an estimate could be derived or assert that a fiscal estimate cannot be calculated. While cost estimates for some bills are sensitive to assumptions about individual enrollment or local governments choosing to offer a benefit, fiscal notes could include a range or an estimate of the maximum potential impact.

The Legislature should reject all benefit sweeteners described in the scorecard as unwarranted expansions of public employee benefits. It would be particularly egregious to adopt any bills that violate the Legislature’s own rules requiring a fiscal note.   

Footnotes

  1. “50. Fiscal note in retirement bills. 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." Section 50 of New York State Legislative Law (1971).
  2. Section 1 of the Permanent Joint Rules of the Senate and Assembly. http://www.assembly.state.ny.us/Rules/?sec=jr (accessed June 1, 2018).
  3. Rule 8 of the New York State Senate Rules, https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/resolutions/2017/r4 (accessed June 1, 2018).