Late yesterday, the Mandate Relief Redesign Team — or, more accurately, its coaches and trainers in the governor’s office — issued a report that essentially punts the issue back to … the team itself.Employee benefits must be the single most costly mandate issue desperately in need of repair. The report's idea for a new pension tier seems to fall short of what is really needed.
The report was couched as “preliminary,” promising quarterly updates, to conclude with a final report a little over a year from now. “Going forward,” the report promises, “the Team will continue to review recommendations proposed by Team members, state agencies, local governments, school districts and the public, and consider them for advancement.”
In the meantime, the hopelessly divided “Team” seems destined to spend a lot more time scrimmaging around the 50-yard line. The Triborough amendment and employee benefits, to cite just two factors driving up local costs, were mentioned by the report in passing, only as “complex issues” requiring further study.
Unfortunately, the language of the report steers carefully clear of mentioning the main problem with the current pension system: the unpredictability of taxpayer-funded employer contributions; the huge, open-ended financial risks imposed on taxpayers; and the repeated success of unions in clawing back reductions in benefits before any employee comes close to reaching retirement age. Those problems can only be addressed through a fundamental break with the defined-benefit pension system—by shifting to a defined-contribution retirement accounts or a hybrid pension plan. The Cuomo administration is, as yet, clearly unwilling to go that far. But it’s still not shutting the door, either.