As a 19th-century Manhattan politician once observed, “no man’s life, liberty or property are safe while the Legislature is in session.”
Some things never change. On balance, New Yorkers would probably be better off if this year’s legislative session ended ahead of its scheduled June 21 adjournment.
That’s at least a possibility, thanks to gridlock created by a Republican senator’s departure for active Navy duty. In the meantime, even a few days is plenty for lawmakers to get up to no good. This is especially true in an even-numbered year, with the entire Assembly and Senate up for election — even more so with control of the Senate on the line.
Putting aside high-profile issues like sports betting and pot legalization, the still-live bills in Assembly and Senate hoppers include, as usual, scores of measures that could add to the cost of living, working and doing business in New York.
Take, for example, the assortment of proposals that would prevent the state and local governments from making any changes to generous guaranteed lifetime health-insurance coverage for retired employees. Common across New York government, retiree health coverage is virtually unheard of in the private sector.
Also known as “other post-employment benefits,” government retiree health care represents an unfunded liability with a statewide price tag well over $250 billion — including $87 billion for state government and $88 billion for New York City. By thwarting any effort to curb or restructure these benefits, various “anti-diminution” bills would pander to unions and government retirees at the expense of future generations of New Yorkers — those who hang around to pay the bill, that is.
Also still pending are scores of proposals to sweeten public pensions — another instance in which lawmakers are far more worried about pleasing unions than protecting the long-term interests of their constituents.
One pension sweetener worth watching would allow for earlier retirement by uniformed state-court officers. The cost is a relatively low $1.6 million, since it would be limited to a small group of employees whose union enjoys outsized political influence. If it ever became law, however, the pension boost would become the first step down the slippery slope of “tier equity” — a euphemism for rolling back the cost-savings pension reforms enacted since 2009.
In another favor to unions, Sen. Martin Golden (R-Brooklyn) and Assemblyman Peter Abbate (D-Brooklyn) — chairs of their respective committees dealing with government workers — introduced bills allowing police unions to demand collective bargaining of disciplinary procedures, undermining a time-honored managerial prerogative.
But government employees are hardly the only special-interest groups targeted for favors. Lawmakers continue to indulge the entertainment industry, which already benefits from $420 million a year in film and TV production subsidies classified as tax credits. Golden and Assemblyman Joseph Lentol (D-Brooklyn) are sponsoring up to $50 million a year in similar refundable credits for music and digital video-game producers.
The cost of health care in New York, meanwhile, would be boosted by scores of proposed bills that would expand the already lengthy list of services insurance policies are forced to cover.
Elsewhere in the health care arena, a bill pushed by nurses’ unions, would set arbitrary “safe staffing” ratios in hospitals. The sponsors, Sen. Kemp Hannon (R-Nassau) and Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther (D-Sullivan), haven’t calculated the impact on the state budget — let alone the health care sector at large. But it passed the Assembly in 2016, and with 37 Senate co-sponsors, it could make it to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s desk this year.
Last but not least, lawmakers have introduced measures that would drill loopholes in the state’s property-tax cap. The cap has saved New Yorkers billions, but opponents continue a relentless drive to weaken it and return to the days when school taxes grew an average of 6 percent a year.
Many of the worst bills, especially pension and benefit sweeteners, have been passed before but vetoed by Cuomo or his predecessors. But past positions aren’t necessarily a guide to future decisions — especially in an election year.