New York Governor David Patterson dropped a bombshell on two powerful unions yesterday when he unexpectedly vetoed a routine measure that for nearly thirty (30) years had allowed New York city cops and firefighters to retire with generous pensions.

“These are not routine times,” Paterson said in vetoing the “temporary” measure that, since 1981, had been habitually renewed by legislators, giving the Finest and Bravest gold-plated pensions known as “Tier II” even as new, less-generous tiers were created for non-uniformed workers. Paterson added, “Instead of a rubber stamp on a temporary fix, we need to move forward with real reform to the pension system.”

In recent months, the New York Post has detailed the spiraling costs of public-employee pensions and the growing threat they pose to state and local budgets. Paterson’s veto, which caught the lawmakers off guard, was his most aggressive move yet in his push to establish a pared-down pension tier for newly hired employees. Recently, the governor re-introduced his cost-saving pension proposal, which legislators flatly rejected during this year’s budget negotiations. In fact, Paterson estimates that his proposal for a new pension tier would save the state $48 billion over the next thirty (30) years. 

Labor unions and their allies in the Legislature said they were blindsided by the governor’s veto and argued that state and local governments will see no savings from the move because it’s unclear which pension tiers new cops and firefighters would join. According to Civil Service Committee Chairwoman Diane Savino, who sponsored the bill, “There was no cost to extending the current system. We don’t know what the cost would be. We don’t know what the savings will be.” 

The bill passed overwhelmingly, 136-6 in the Assembly and 58-0 in the Senate, leading to talk of a veto override, which requires a two-thirds majority of each house. 

The savings would come from, among other items, raising the minimum retirement age and banning overtime “spiking,” where workers run up OT in their final years to boost pension payouts.

As one can expect, developments such as these do not bode well for public safety officers across the county, to include those of our state. As detailed in previous entries, public pension reform has become an important topic, especially during these tough economic times. This article illustrates the types of responses that are being taken by government in response to the issue and the resulting effect upon public safety officers. Please continue to check this blog periodically to ascertain updates in regard to this matter.