Editorial: Pensions costing us too much

Most of us would be happy just to retire comfortably.

But the state of New York is letting many former employees retire rich.

And all the rest of us “comfortable-retirement” wannabees are paying for it.

Without a legitimate effort to reform the state pension system in the next legislative session, these expenses will continue to rise and continue to place an unnecessary and expensive burden on New York’s taxpayers.

The Empire Center, a nonprofit government watchdog group, on Wednesday issued its latest report on the number of retirees receiving ridiculously large pensions through the New York State and Local Retirement System.

Examining data posted on its SeeThroughNY website, the Empire Center reports that more than 3,800 state retirees each collected more than $100,000 in annual pensions during the last fiscal year — an 18 percent increase over the previous year.

We’re not talking about people who are currently working on our behalf in state government. We’re talking about people who are retired and no longer contributing to the state’s work force. We’re talking about taxpayers paying certain lucky individuals substantial amounts of money, well beyond what many of us would consider reasonable public-sector retirement benefits, to do nothing.

Among those receiving the largest pensions were more than 2,350 retired police officers and firefighters from Long Island and New York City suburbs. Many others on the list are retired educators, judges and transportation authority employees. Sixteen retirees are taking home more than $200,000 a year.

We don’t begrudge anyone receiving retirement benefits for many years of public service. It benefits us all when our retirees are able to live comfortably on their own.

But taxpayers can only afford so much, and the current pension system is overly generous and expensive, to the point where it’s placing significant financial stress on the budgets of state and local governments.

The money we spend paying exorbitant pensions could be used instead to pay current government employees and to support public services like emergency services, road and highway crews, infrastructure upgrades, schools and other necessities.

State lawmakers need to stop kicking this problem down the road and pass reforms that should include shifting public employees from guaranteed pensions to defined-contribution plans, like the 401(k)-style plans many in the private sector have.

This would save taxpayers money and allow for more reasonable retirement packages, not the golden parachutes that some retired state employees are getting.

In the meantime, state officials also need to cut down on the provisions that allow future retirees to pad their pensions in the waning years of employment.

New York government is always criticized for its excessive spending and high taxes.

As the latest report shows, pension reform would go a long way toward reducing both.

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