The good: Remove pension and retirements benefits from persons convicted of felonies.
Preface: This objective can only be accomplished by amending section 7 of article 5 of the state constitution. This requires majority passage of a specific amendment in both houses of the legislature, an acceptance opinion rendered by the Attorney General’s Office, a second majority passage after an intervening election and approval by a majority of the voters in a general election.
If there was ever a need for such reform, consider the following:
On Oct. 5th of 2006, Roslyn School District Chief Frank Tassone went to jail after haven been convicted of an $11 million dollar fraud. While in prison he collected $14,457.92 in monthly pension payments—– $173,495 annually for life.
More recently, State Senator Charles Kruger admitted to taking $500,000 in bribes and was sentenced to 7 years in Federal prison. Once in prison he will receive a $5,416 monthly pension, again, for life.
It’s reasonable to ask why such payments are allowed. The answer rests with a provision in the current state constitution that states “barring a pension contends with a contractual relationship and, as a result, those benefits cannot be reduced or impaired simply by changing the law.” If there was ever a self serving, protect the guilty at the expense of the innocent statement, this has to be it. In my opinion, contracts should never be considered sacrosanct when abused as a matter of trust.
A ray of hope to effectively amend the limitation surfaces (the good news) with legislative sponsored by Carl L. Marcellino, Republican Senator from the 5th District on Long Island. His bill, which I have reviewed in detail, has the potential to address the egregious situations I cited, assuming on-going support during 2013 and voter acceptance of the amendments..
Whether this happens is anyone’s guess. In 1995, voters rejected an amendment that addressed the state’s questionable financial practices. In 2005, an amendment to encourage a greater role of the legislature (tackling the three men in a room budget process syndrome) was also defeated. To quote Peter J. Galie, a retired professor of political science at Canisius College in Buffalo “over the past 35 years New Yorkers have shown an uncharacteristic reluctance to effect major reform of their constitution….hardly addressing the dysfunctional aspects of New York government.”
My next column addresses plans to legalize full-scale casino gambling.