Niagara Gazette — A pair of state lawmakers from opposite sides of the political aisle are pushing for an end to the practice of private lobbyists collecting publicly funded pensions.
During a press conference Tuesday in Albany, state Sen. George Maziarz, R-Newfane, and state Assemblyman Sean Ryan, D-Buffalo, announced their joint effort to secure passage of legislation that would bar private lobbyists from collecting pensions through the New York State and Local Retirement System.
Both lawmakers say they are looking to close a little-known loophole that has allowed employees of certain private advocacy organizations to collect pension benefits through the statewide retirement system intended solely for public employees. The New York Conference of Mayors, New York State Association of Counties, the Association of Towns of the State of New York, the New York State Association of Town Highway Superintendents, the New York State School Boards Association and other school board associations are among the groups whose employees have been able to collect under the publicly funded pension system.
“Taxpayers have been footing the bill for these lobbyists’ pensions for too long and it has to stop now,” Maziarz said. “These lobbyists may be retained by government groups for advocacy purposes but to be clear they are not public employees and they are not accountable to the public. Closing this loophole is an important step forward in strengthening the integrity of the pension system and easing a financial burden on local governments.”
Both legislators are introduced bills aimed at prohibiting any new employees of the groups in question from participating in the state retirement system. Another bill calls for the same prohibition but goes a step further and would prevent any current employees of the organizations from earning any additional retirement service credit immediately.
“New Yorkers are rightfully concerned that well connected lobbyists are accessing New York State pension benefits, and the legislature needs to pass reforms to stop this abuse,” Ryan said. “There is clearly a conflict of interest when these lobbyists set their own salaries, which are often exorbitant, and then expect the public pension system to pay out retirement benefits. There is currently no accountability, and it’s time for the Assembly and Senate to step up to the plate and fix this loophole.”