Headed for the governor’s desk?

Reversing decades of precedent, all but one of the state’s public pension funds are now refusing to release the names of hundreds of thousands of retired employees who collect billions of dollars a year in taxpayer-guaranteed pensions.

The pension funds are citing a 2011 decision by the Appellate Division in Manhattan, which in turn upheld a lower court’s rejection of the Empire Center’s Freedom of Information (FOI) request for the names of retired New York City police officers for inclusion on the SeeThroughNY database. In a decision we’re fighting, the courts upheld the city Police Pension Fund’s claim that retirees themselves are entitled to the same confidentiality as their designated beneficiaries (usually surviving spouses).

But the Legislature may be riding to the rescue of the public’s right to know.

Following a recommendation by the Committee on Open Government, the Assembly last month voted 137-1 in favor of a bill amending the FOI law to more clearly distinguish between a “retiree” and a “beneficiary,”  which will effectively require the pension funds to resume disclosure of pensioners’ identities.

The Daily News reports that the bill will be introduced in the Senate by a leading member of that house’s Republican majority, Martin Golden of Brooklyn. Golden himself is a retired New York City police officer, collecting a $29,000 disability pension.  Given the overwhelming support for the measure in the Democrat-dominated Assembly, Senate Republicans should be able to approve this fix before the session adjourns in two weeks.

By the way, give credit to state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, sole trustee of the New York State and Local Retirement System (NYSLRS), for refusing to join the pension secrecy charade.  Unlike all five New York City pension systems and the New York State Teachers’ Retirement System, NYSLRS is continuing to release the names of retirees along with their maximum allowable pension benefits.

About the Author

Tim Hoefer

Tim Hoefer is president & CEO of the Empire Center for Public Policy.

Read more by Tim Hoefer

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