Sunday, May 10, 2015
Are Our Pensions Safe?
There are rumors that Governor Cuomo will go after existing teacher pensions in 2017 by calling a constitutional convention and changing the State constitution to reduce pension benefits. However, there is a question whether he could do it and a problem if the Governor actually intends to do this since its highly likely that existing pension benefits will remain unscathed no matter what happens.
First, the New York State constitution states that "benefits cannot be diminished or impaired" and even if a constitutional convention tried to change that clause, the unions would tie it up in the State and Federal courts for a decade or more and the likely result would be no changes for existing pensions or workers hired under the old State constitution.
Second, its highly unlikely that the Democratic Assembly would agree to do this and face the wrath of the unions which would jeopardize their elections going forward. Yes, they caved to the Governor on the teacher evaluation system because our disconnected union leadership allowed it. This would be very different since it destroys a covenant between the the State and its public workers and the entire unionized work force would mobilize against it.
Third, the State constitutional changes would have to apply to all public workers not just teachers to pass even the preliminary rounds of constitutional challenges in the courts.
Finally, the Illinois Supreme Court has unanimously struck down that State's revised pension system that tried to diminish existing pension rights and also questioned the futility of having a constitutional convention that would allow it to do so. This will be cited as precedent in any New York State attempts to do the same thing.
The bottom line is that all this may be moot as the Governor's popularity is rapidly sinking and picking a fight with the state unions would not be in his best interest. In other words, I don't believe that our pensions will be affected, no matter what happens in 2017.