New York Post


Pensions for felonious pols: An outrage NY lawmakers refuse to fix
By Post Editorial Board | May 1, 2016

Dean Skelos’ lawyers last week protested the prosecutors’ move to make the loss of his taxpayer-paid pension part of the penalty for his crimes. Their excuse: He was only corrupt at the end of his career.

Give them points for chutzpah — and for the reminder that felonious New York pols still get such pensions.

State lawmakers promised more than a year ago to move to end that outrage, but still haven’t gotten it done. The state Senate passed the agreed-upon bill to strip pensions from any state employee convicted of abuse of office; the Assembly passed one that targets only legislators.

The only fellow who seems serious on this front is US Attorney Preet Bharara — who’s looking to garnish the pensions of ex-Speaker Sheldon Silver as well as Skelos, after winning convictions of both men this year.

Bharara’s plainly right that it’s a “galling injustice” for crooked pols to draw taxpayer-funded pensions until their “dying day.” In poll after poll, voters strongly (by up to 90%) back stripping pensions from lawmakers and state workers convicted of felonies related to their duties.

That, notably, is stronger approval than the voters gave to either of the issues Gov. Cuomo prioritized this year: paid family leave (80%) and the $15 minimum wage (63%).

On the other hand, the governor hasn’t seemed too concerned about corruption since he abruptly shut down his own Moreland Commission back in 2014. (Luckily for the public, Bharara swept up the Moreland files for his own follow-up — a key step in the Silver-Skelos investigations.)

Cuomo paid lip service to the need for reform in his State of the State speech this year. But in budget talks, when he had maximum leverage, he opted instead to fight for his family-leave and minimum-wage goals.

The gov’s counsel, Alphonso David, recently said Cuomo would “accept” less than the full package of ethics changes he’d requested.

Then again, David also warned that the cloud of corruption over Albany is deterring “honest” people from serving in government. How about deterring dishonest people?

At this point, the public will be lucky to get action on the pension issue before the Legislature wraps up for the year.

But even then, there’s a huge catch.

Retroactively ending pensions for felonious pols involves amending the state Constitution — which requires lawmakers to also pass the exact same bill next year and voters to approve it.

The clear, if cynical, conclusion: If the courts don’t agree with Bharara’s call to confiscate Skelos’ pension, then Dean will still have plenty of spending money in prison, thanks to taxpayers — and Skelos’ corruption-friendly ex-colleagues.

Michael Benjamin