Mayor should resist cop pension rollback

The dispute between the cops and the mayor is partly about an election—not the mayor’s, but that of Patrick Lynch, head of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, whom dissidents want to unseat.

Like some other elected officials, Mr. Lynch uses inflammatory rhetoric and actions to score points with his base. He said City Hall had “blood on its hands” in the killing of two police officers, led a shameful two-week slowdown in the enforcement of low-level violations and encouraged officers to turn their backs on the mayor at police funerals.

There are, of course, real issues. Mr. Lynch and his members have been battling the mayor for a contract, and the matter is in arbitration. Police disability pensions have also been brought into the conflict.

Pensions for law-enforcement officers have typically been more generous than for other public workers. We want our cops to be able to chase, tackle and subdue wrongdoers, so we have allowed them to retire at earlier ages with better benefits.

Disability provisions for cops and other uniformed employees such as firefighters, sanitation workers and correction officers are more liberal, too.

They are all covered by “heart bills” that presume that heart ailments, among others, are job-related, regardless of obesity or personal choices such as smoking.

At issue is an attempt by the state legislature to roll back pension reforms passed years ago. It would provide cops hired after 2009 with the same disability pension provisions as those hired earlier. Newer hires receive about 44% of their salaries with an offset for Social Security benefits, compared with 75% with no offset for Social Security.

Mayor Bill De Blasio opposed this sweetener last year because of the cost and, I hope, because it doesn’t distinguish between those actually injured on the job and those with conditions presumed to be job-related. These “presumptive” conditions are ripe for abuse, since unscrupulous doctors will certify them even if people are able to, and eventually do, hold other jobs. This misguided policy works against those with genuine service-connected health issues.

Costs would be far higher still if firefighters also gain coverage. Because two-thirds of firefighters retire on disability, costs would soar.

Albany wants a home-rule measure from the City Council, although state legislators have routinely liberalized pensions in the past, along with the requirement that the city pick up the tab. The mayor cannot veto the home-rule measure, but his position could sway the council.

It may be difficult for the mayor to resist the pressure to accede, but he should do so. At $8.6 billion, pension costs are a huge part of the city’s budget, and have grown 155% since 2005—three times faster than the growth of the budget overall.

http://www.crainsnewyork.com/article/20150125/OPINION/150129894/mayor-should-resist-cop-pension-rollback