Posted at: 11/25/2013 6:44 AM
Updated at: 11/25/2013 7:05 PM
By: Brett Davidsen
Private employees are enjoying public retirement benefits. There are more than 100 people in New York eligible for a taxpayer-funded pension even though they don't work for the state. There are almost a 100 more who are already collecting.
Local government and school boards have expressed concern that pensions are breaking their budgets. So why, then, are their private lobbyists in Albany allowed to collect on retirement benefits that taxpayers paid for?
Timothy Kremer, Executive Director of the New York State School Boards Association, said, “We represent elected officials. All the school boards in the state are members of my organization."
A private organization, part of the New York State School Boards Association's function is lobbying lawmakers for things like more school aid and fewer mandates.
Kremer said, "I don't think we're the type of organization people think of when they think of lobbyists. We're really truly a membership organization serving public officials, much broader than just providing lobbying services."
However, you want to refer to them, one thing is clear, Kremer and his staff are not state employees.
But they are getting a taxpayer-funded public pension.
Blair Horner, New York Public Interest Research Group, said, "It's an ironic twist that local government officials who are constantly up here complaining about pension funds are, they themselves, the beneficiaries of that exact system."
There are eight non-profit corporations that were grandfathered into the state retirement system decades ago, despite the fact that they aren't state workers. They advocate for municipalities, libraries or school boards.
News10NBC obtained this database from the New York State Comptroller's Office and found there are 123 people working for the eight groups and another 87 who are retired and collecting a public pension. Those retires are taking home a collective $2.1 million a year.
Stephen Acquario Executive Director of New York of Counties, said, "It's the law in the state of New York."
Stephen Acquario can often be seen at the statehouse advocating for different counties. As Executive Director of the New York State Association of Counties, he earned a salary of $200,000 last year, about $20,000 more than the governor.
Acquario said, "The association itself is a defender of the taxpayer."
News10NBC's Brett Davidsen said, “But unlike state government, these groups aren't restricted from setting their own salaries. And the better the salary, the better the pension.
George Maziarz, ( R) State Senate, 62nd District, said, “So, in effect, they could increase their pension compensation in the last couple of years of working and actually leave maybe with a higher pension than what their salaries were. It's a bizarre system."
State Senator George Maziarz points out that he often hears from the very same groups lobbying for pension reform.
Maziarz said, "I just think it's disingenuous on their part to be out there complaining about abuses to the system when they are a major abuse."
Davidsen asked, “How do you reconcile that. The critics say that's hypocritical. Is it hypocritical?”
Kremer said, "I don't think so. I mean, we pay for it. Out of my budget alone we're going to pay 20% of payroll toward the retirement system this year alone."
Acquario said, "So while we argue for reduced pension benefits or costs thereof, that same reduction applies to the association and staff as well."
After learning of the lobbyist loophole from decades ago, Maziarz recently introduced legislation that would boot the groups from the pension rolls. Kremer, whose salary tops $222,000, says state lawmakers are entitled to do what they want, but defended his association's inclusion in the system.
Kremer said, "I don't think it's necessary. Honestly, I do believe we should stay in the system just as we are."
Looking closely at the data, News10NBC noticed the largest single pension among the groups belongs to Austin Crawford, retired from the New York State Association of Towns. He is collecting $95,000 annually.