If Governor Cuomo’s dubious proposal to “smooth” tax-funded employer pension costs is passed by the Legislature and accepted by the trustees of the New York State Teachers’ Retirement System (NYSTRS), and if all school districts then opt into the plan, NYSTRS will be systematically under-funded by billions of dollars over the next few years. You might think the union representing New York teachers would not favor weakening the source of its members’ future pensions. But you’d be wrong.
New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) has just endorsed the governor’s plan. And if that surprises you, you’re not familiar enough with the history of pension gimmickry around the country. It’s by no means unprecedented for public employee unions to put short-term interests ahead of long-term financial security of their pension funds.
New York’s biggest government union, the Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA), has been critical of Cuomo’s plan. CSEA is right, and its members should appreciate it. NYSUT is wrong — but not for the first time. Two years ago, the union drafted a bill, subsequently passed by the Legislature, that would have allowed school districts to bond out a portion of their rising pension costs. That measure was vetoed by Cuomo, who now backs a less direct (but potentially even more dangerous) form of borrowing from the future.