Last month, the state Legislature passed pension reforms that Gov. David A. Paterson has said will save $48.5 billion over the next 30 years.

The most significant change was a new pension level that raises the retirement age and requires workers to kick in some of their pay while they are piling up pension credits.

The new level, called Tier 5, raises from 55 to 62 the age at which a worker can retire without any penalty. The penalty for retiring before 62 is a 38-percent hit on benefits. The change also caps the amount of overtime that can be counted in calculating pension benefits. For civilians, it’s $15,000 a year. For police and firefighters, it’s 15 percent of nonovertime wages.

Workers will have to contribute 3 percent of their salaries. The reforms also increase the minimum amount someone must work before he can draw a pension — that goes from five years to 10.

The reforms extend to the New York State Teachers Retirement System, too. There, the minimum retirement age went from 55 to 57, and teachers will have to contribute 3.5 percent of their wages to pension costs.

E. J. McMahon says these changes are not nearly enough. He’s the director of the Empire Center for Public Policy, part of the fiscally conservative Manhattan Institute.

McMahon said the governor gave away far too much by making sure to get the political approval of unions, especially in his concessions to the teachers retirement fund.

And, he said, at the first sign of good economic times, unions will push the governor and legislators to roll back the reforms made in Tier 5 until all the gains are gone.

McMahon said the state needs to dramatically reduce its financial risk by switching from a pension system to a deferred compensation system, like a 401K. In a system like that, the employees would carry the risk, not the state. Right now, the state is on the hook to give retirees a set amount of money, regardless of how the pension fund does.

“It exposes the taxpayers to enormous, open-ended risk,” McMahon said. “Pensions go to a lot of important people who we value and we like, but the question is can we support it and sustain it.”

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The Empire Center is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank located in Albany, New York. Our mission is to make New York a better place to live and work by promoting public policy reforms grounded in free-market principles, personal responsibility, and the ideals of effective and accountable government.

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