Unions Blast Tier VI Proposal (Updated)

Not surprisingly, the state’s two largest public-worker unions are blasting Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Tier VI pension bill introduced this afternoon.

Civil Service Employees Association President Danny Donohue in a statement accused Cuomo of “grandstanding” on the issue:

“Congratulations to Governor Cuomo for another grandstand play for the attention of his millionaire
friends at the expense of the real working people of New York.”

“The governor’s proposal for a Tier VI pension reform for public employees is more evidence of how out of touch he is with working people and the economic pressures they face everyday. The governor’s onerous proposal will pick the pockets of front-line public workers and undermine their retirement security without providing any short term savings,” Donohue said.

And Public Employees Federation President Ken Brynien called the plan “draconian.”

“The ink is barely dry on Tier 5, but now the governor is proposing draconian pension cuts that would inflict permanent damage on middle class workers such as nurses, parole officers, bridge inspectors and cancer researchers for what is a transient problem,” Brynien said.

There was little mention of the ongoing negotiations between Cuomo and the unions, which so far have produced little news. State worker contracts expired April 1, giving automatic step increases to workers under the provisions of the Triborough Amendment.

UPDATE: There’s now a statement from AFL-CIO President Denis Hughes, who said the bill “does nothing to address New York’s greatest problem, job creation.” He also urged Cuomo to “rethink think strategy” and said the Legislature should reject the measure “outright.” Hughes’ full statement appears after the jump.

More >

Bloomberg Praises ‘Sensible’ Pension Plan

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a statement this afternoon that Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s new, less generous pension reform plan was “sensible.”

Bloomberg, whose adminsitration has been trying to seek less generous pension tiers for city employees, said the Cuomo proposal would save the state $30 billion over 30 years.

“We have, for the last six months, been engaging with stakeholders in City and State government and our partners in municipal labor on a vital question we’ve been raising for years: how to protect both City services and the strength of our retirement funds over the long term. The Governor’s bill will do just that. By making sensible pension reforms that won’t impact a single current employee or existing retiree, this legislation will create $30 billion in savings over the next 30 years for the City, which will ensure we can afford the services and workforce that City residents depend on, and provide a secure retirement for municipal employees long into the future

Breslin Likes Disclosure, Questions JCOPE

Depty Senate Minority Leader Neil Breslin, D-Albany, said the disclosure provisions in the new ethics measure unveiled this week are both tough and fair to lawmaker-lawyers, but he is raising concerns over the composition of the proposed Joint Commission on Public Ethics.

The new ethics watchdog, which would replaced the often maligned Commission on Public Integrity, includes 14 appointees — six from the governor and eight from legislative leaders. But today some are pointing to provisions buried in the measure that show the current legislative majorities will be able to keep most of their picks, even if they fall into the minority.

It’s a particularly potent concern for Senate Republicans, who hold a narrow 32-30 majority. With redistricting in 2012 and the demographics being what they are in New York, Democrats could retake the chamber.

“That’s forever,” Breslin said of the appointments. “It’s an ongoing basis unless some legislation is passed in the future. That doesn’t take into consideration the changing dynamics in the house and that concerns me. I don’t like the secrecy either of how the commission operates. I don’t like that votes won’t be known.”

However, he was pleased that an ethics bill was finally available to be voted on by the end of the year.

Ms. Billups Goes To Washington

Our nation’s capital is about to get one very hard-nosed reporter.

Albany is losing Erin Billups at the end of this month to our new Washington, D.C. bureau. She’ll be part of a new team for YNN/NY1 and the other Time Warner cable properties covering national news and politics.

Erin, a Queens native and UAlbany graduate, started at YNN in 2007 and then moved to covering politics on March 10, 2008 — the same day the Eliot Spitzer scandal broke.

In 2009, Erin became the political reporter for YNN’s New York City sister station, NY1.

Erin has been fantastic competitor, and later, a great colleague. She’s been more than patient in sharing cramped quarters here at the YNN/NY1 Capitol Bureau — office space that she was more than instrumental in obtaining — and withstanding my loud and honking phone voice.

She’s also an accomplished singer, performing the show-stopper at the LCA show as Sarah Palin.

Please join me in congratulating Erin.

As Jimmy at CapCon noted earlier, other pending Capitol moves include The Post’s Brendan Scott heading to a new gig in Hong Kong and Senate Democratic spokesman Travis Proulx moving to the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities.

Cuomo Introduces Tier VI Bill

As expected, Gov. Andrew Cumo today announced he was introducing a measure that would provide for a less generous Tier VI retirement level for state employees.

The measure would raise the official state retirement age from 62 to 65, require employees to contribute six percent of their salary for the duration of their career and end the practice known as “padding” — accruing unused sick and vacation days as part of the employee’s total pension.

Provisions also included in the bill are:
· Ending early retirement
· Requiring employees to contribute six percent of their salary for the duration of their career
· Providing a 1.67 percent annual pension multiplier
· Vesting after 12 years instead of 10 years
· Excluding overtime from final average salary
· Using a five year final average salary calculation with an 8 percent anti-spiking cap
· Excluding wages above the Governor’s salary of $179,000 from the final average salary calculation

“The numbers speak for themselves – the pension system as we know it is unsustainable,” Cuomo said in a statement. “This bill institutes common-sense reforms to bring government benefits more in line with the private sector while still serving our employees and protecting our retirees. Reducing the skyrocketing pension burden faced by local governments and schools will also help get control of local property taxes that are driving New Yorkers from their homes and from the state.”

The Associated Press first reported last month that the governor was readying a measure to introduce the new pension tier. It comes just over a year after Gov. David Paterson pushed through a Tier V that saves $30 billion over a generation.

This new measure, as reported earlier, saves $93 billion over 30 years.

Introducing this bill comes at a curious time. Cuomo is engaged in private negotiations with the state public-employee unions. He is trying to seek $450 million in workforce concessions or he has vowed to layoff as many as 9,500 workers. The Times Union reported that seniority lists are being drawn up, but most details of the talks have been kept secret.

Seeking concessions from unions as he tries to strip workers of their retirement pay would certainly complicate the negotiations.


Sen. Ball’s Mixed Messages On Gay Marriage

ICYMI: Sen. Greg Ball, one of a handful of GOP senators on the “undecided”/might-be-gettable list for same-sex marriage advocates, offered a rather mixed message on the subject during a CapTon interview Monday night.

(NOTE: I would have posted this earlier, but technical difficulties prevented me from doing so, sorry about that).

On the one hand, Ball, a Hudson Valley freshman, suggested that pushing this controversial issue might not be the best idea for Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo if he indeed aspires to higher office, saying:

“As I understand it, President Obama and Hillary Clinton don’t support gay marriage. As somebody who has his eye toward running for president, that may not be a bad move.”

On the other hand, Ball said he’s not afraid of the state Conservative Party’s threat not to endorse any Republican who votes “yes” on the marriage bill – should it come to the floor prior to the session’s end. He noted that he didn’t get the party’s backing in 2010 (or the GOP’s, for that matter) and won anyway as a write-in candidate.

“I can tell you that Republicans and Conservatives should really think a little bit down the line,” Ball said. “If you’re really do care and you’re on the right of this issue, or to the right of this issue, you gotta realize that there’s going to be a day when marriage equality comes to New York State.”

“And it may be within our best interests to make sure that we have religious protections that we protect religious individuals and institutions and do everything we can at this point to make sure that that happens. But, you know, this is going to have to be decided by individual members.”

The religious protections issue seems to be a non-starter with Democrats at the moment, which might give Ball cover to vote “no”.

Gay Marriage PAC Returns To Back Cuomo

Fight Back NY, the political action committee formed last year with the sole purpose of ousting senators (Democrats and Republicans) who had helped tank the gay marriage bill in 2009, has returned to assist Gov. Andrew Cuomo & Co. in the final push to get the measure passed in the Senate before the 2011 legislative session ends.

“Now we’re almost at the end of the legislative session and we believe we have the best shot we’ve ever had at finally winning marriage,” the Fight Back team wrote to supporters in an email today. “So we’re going to ask you to help one more time.”

“We’ve watched carefully as a coalition of advocacy groups formed alongside the powerful support of Governor Cuomo. These groups – Empire State Pride Agenda, HRC, Freedom to Marry, Log Cabin Republicans and Marriage Equality New York – are united in a way that we’ve truly never seen before (and this isn’t our first time at the rodeo).”

“Over the past few months, you have probably noticed that the efforts of the coalition are bearing real fruit: support for marriage in New York is at 58% and they’re recruiting new, powerful allies every day.”

“We’re impressed. And it takes a lot to impress us. From what we’ve seen, the coalition is smart, strategic, and efficient. And Governor Cuomo is playing to win. We believe they’re on the brink of victory.”

Fight Back is asking its backers to contribute to New Yorkers United for Marriage Equality (the official name of the Cuomo-created coalition), contact their respective state senators and use social networking to increase the grassroots pressure on lawmakers, who are due back next Monday for their last full work week in Albany.

(The Monday after that is the last scheduled day of session, but things could go long – it has happened before, after all).

Long Island Firefighter For Same-Sex Marriage

In its ongoing series of videos pushing for same-sex marriage legalization in New York, the Human Rights Campaign released a YouTub video of a Long Island volunteer firefighter who supports the measure.

“Loving gay and lesbian couples should be able to go down to city hall and get a marriage license. Nothing says family like marriage,” says Mike Vissichelli.

Vissichelli is the president of FireFLAG, an advocacy group for gay and lesbian firefighters and rescue workers.

Legislators have gone home for the week and due back in Albany Monday to take up the final measures of the regular legislative session. The fate of same-sex marriage in the Senate remains unclear. A Senate GOP spokesman said today that Republican lawmakers are yet to formally conference the measure.

DiNapoli Begins SUNY Research Foundation Probe

Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office announced today it is beginning a promised investigation into the hiring and pay practices, along with conflict of interests at the foundation.

This is now three formal investigations including the Public Integrity Commission’s report that alleged Foundation President John O’Connor hired Susan Bruno, the daughter of former Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno, for a “no-show” job.

“Our goal is to ensure accountability and openness at the Research Foundation for all New Yorkers,” DiNapoli said in a statement

The SUNY Board of Trustees unanimously voted last week to accept O’Connor’s resignation after he took a leave of absence. O’Connor has claimed the PIC acted unethically in issuing the report and leaking details to the press, hiring lawyer Karl Sleight to sue the commission.

In addition to DiNapoli’s office, Inspector General Ellen Biben announced last week her office is also looking into the case.

Here’s the full statement from the Comptroller’s Office: More >

An Anti-Fracking Ad Of A Thousand Stars

Actor Mark Ruffalo and friends have joined together with anti-hydraulic fracturing television ad.

The ad features Ruffalo, a Sullivan County resident and outspoken fracking critic, along with “Avatar” star Zoe Saldana, Amy Adams Ryan from “The Office” and actor Ethan Hawke.

The spot features the celebrities enjoying clean New York drinking water, which they warn could be harmed by hydrofracking, a controversial method of extracting natural gas from below ground.

Ther process is under consideration for use in the Marcellus Shale region of the state’s Southern Tier and supporters say it could help the economically moribound upstate economy.

But environmentalists point to concerns over contaminating the water table. The Democratic-led Assembly passed a new moratorium on fracking, but the Senate is yet to take up the measure.