Secrecy surrounds Nassau police deal

by E.J. McMahon |  | NY Torch

Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano has reached a tentative contract deal with the Nassau Police Benevolent Association (PBA).  That’s what Nassau residents have been told via Newsday and the other Long Island news media, at any rate. As of now, based on what’s visible on the county’s website, Mangano’s office hasn’t issued so much as a press release on the deal–much less a copy of the proposed contract.

This is simply the latest, most extreme example of the kind of secrecy that routinely surrounds proposed public-sector collective bargaining agreements throughout the state.

Labor contracts directly shape employee compensation costs, which are the largest single item driving local taxes. And under the Taylor Law, once a contract is ratified, it becomes a basis for future deals, more or less in perpetuity–unless the union is paid dearly to make concessions. That’s why it’s vitally important for details of proposed contracts to be fully aired before they are ratified by local legislative bodies.

In Nassau’s case, the information blackout is especially egregious, given the county’s fiscal problems and the extraordinarily high pay of the county’s PBA members. During the state fiscal year ended March 31, the county’s cops made an average of  nearly $159,000, not including generous benefits. Last year, 12 of the 20 best-paid state and local employees in New York were Nassau County police officers.  At least 550 retired Nassau cops qualify for pensions exceeding $100,000. Go to this page at SeeThroughNY.net to find a full list of Nassau officers salaries in fiscal 2013.

Last summer, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone was criticized (and not just by this writer) when, after reaching a tentative contract agreement with his county’s similarly well-paid PBA, he issued a press release summarizing the deal but did not release the full actual contract for several weeks.  Compared to Mangano, however, Bellone was a paragon of transparency.

Apparently, if it were up to Mangano and the Nassau County Legislature–all running for re-election this year–the PBA deal would be signed before anyone knew what was in it. However, the contract cannot be implemented unless also approved by the Nassau Interim Finance Authority (NIFA), the state-appointed body in control of the county’s finance. NIFA has issued a statement questioning the legality of the contract and directed the county to immediately send it “a copy of the proposed agreement with the PBA and any ancillary memoranda and work papers, as well as a memorandum by the County that analyzes the impact of the proposal on the County’s [multi-year financial plan] on a GAAP basis.”

Pay and “step” increases due under the current Nassau PBA contract, which expires in 2015, have been frozen by NIFA due to the county’s fiscal crisis. County and union officials quoted in Newsdaysay officers would effectively get their frozen pay hikes restore don a “deferred” basis, perhaps in the final years of a deal pushed out until 2017.  They also would get base pay raises of 3.5 percent this year and 3.75 percent in 2015, while newly hired officers would contribute to their health insurance premiums. County officials reportedly say the deal will save $320 million by 2017. They don’t explain how they could have arrived at that figure.

NIFA, however, notes that the county’s financial plan must be balanced by no later than 2015, and deferring raises would essentially throw the plan out of balance. According to Newsday reports, Mangano and union officials are spinning the deal as worthwhile in part on the grounds that the union would drop a pending federal lawsuit challenging NIFA’s ability to enforce the freeze.

The county’s portrayal of the contract also include at least one bit of seriously misleading spin.  In talking points distributed to reporters, Mangano and PBA officials apparently imply that union concessions include the payment of pension contributions by newly hired officers. In fact, those pension contributions are the more positive features result of an otherwise mixed bag of “pension reform”–specifically, the Tier 6 law enacted in 2012–and not of contract talks. Collective bargaining of pensions is flatly prohibited by the Taylor Law. Pensions simply could not have been an issue in the Nassau PBA negotiations.

- E.J. McMahon is the President at the Empire Center for Public Policy.