Lawmakers: convicted colleagues deserve pension forfeiture

Posted at: 05/07/2013 12:06 AM
By: Dan Levy

ALBANY - To say there was disappointment at the state Capitol on Monday might have been an understatement. After Sen. John Sampson, D-Brooklyn, was arrested on corruption charges, lawmakers showed up for work in Albany more determined than ever to clean up the mess that has cast a dark shadow over all of them.

Everyone agrees the stench of political scandal needs to be disinfected immediately and the best way to do it, some say, is to hit the offenders where it hurts them the most -- directly in their pension pocketbooks.

When the political scandals rock the statehouse, it affects everyone and everything, according to Assemblyman John McDonald, D-Cohoes.

"They are a major distraction to the legislative process," McDonald insisted.

The scandals are also pushing angry lawmakers more quickly toward ethics reform.

"I have zero tolerance for any kind of corruption," says Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin, R-Melrose. "I think you should lose your pension."

McLaughlin says he believes elected officials need to be held to a higher standard.

"We're dealing with people's money. We're dealing with people's trust. And when that trust is violated, as it has been over and over and over again, there has to be a very substantial penalty," McLaughlin asserted. "The threat of losing that pension maybe just enough to keeping some of these people in line."

"They don't deserve a pension if, during their office, they've been using it for corrupt purposes," opined Assemblyman Phil Steck, D-Colonie. "I think they've demonstrated a disentitlement."

Lawmakers have actually already had a chance to revoke pension money from elected office holders. The Assembly Government Employees Committee, just last week, voted that measure down 8-6.

"I think you need to hold the feet to the fire of those in the committee that voted against it," McLaughlin said. "I think the public needs to know who in the committee voted against it and take a look at why they're voting against it."

"I think sometimes we need to start sending the message that if you're going to seek the privilege of serving the public, you need to understand all the risks involved if you're going to get involved with inappropriate behavior," McDonald stated.

Many lawmakers also believe that simply withholding pension benefits isn't enough to eradicate the scourge of corruption.

"I'd like to see it part of a more well thought out comprehensive approach to the problem," Steck said.

"I'm fine with term limits on us," McLaughlin added. "But we should absolutely have term limits on leadership positions. Nobody should be speaker (of the Assembly) or the Senate for twenty-plus years. That's ridiculous. The president can only serve for eight (years)."

It was Assemblyman Dan Stec, R-Queensbury, who sponsored the pension forfeiture bill voted down in committee last week. He says he's "disappointed, but not completely surprised" it got voted down. Stec also says he's determined to not give up, to tweak it and try again.