POLITICAL MASTER CLOSES THE DEAL

Governor uses compromise to achieve major goals

RICK KARLIN AND JAMES M. ODATO
Section: Main,  Page: A1

Date: Friday, March 16, 2012

ALBANY -- Gov. Andrew Cuomo savored his victory Thursday while unions seethed at passage of a less-generous pension plan for future public employees.


Winning passage of the Tier VI pension was perhaps the governor's biggest challenge this year as unions pressured lawmakers to reject changes.


Union leaders reacted with harsh words for the governor and Legislature after their loss, but municipal government leaders and representatives of business groups praised the reductions, which promise tax savings.


Cuomo talked with reporters about the dead-of-night deal-making that resulted in a compromise version of his pension plan. He also discussed successes with other items on his priority list, including a key step in legalizing casinos and increased DNA use to fight crime.


The pension bill passed after threats -- Cuomo preferred the word "options" -- to lawmakers that if they didn't adopt independently drawn voting districts he would veto redistricting bills. But he signed the redistricting legislation created by the Legislature into law on Thursday after getting some of his other wish-list items.


In the Democratic-dominated Assembly, the pressure from public-sector unions was particularly intense to kill the pension reform plan. Assembly members literally waited until after the sun had set and then started to rise before they passed the bill.


The plan, which exempts current public employees, raises the retirement age from 62 to 63. It lowers the multiplier, or percentage of salary used to calculate pensions, from 2 percent to 1.75 percent and then back to 2 percent in the 21st year. It also reduces the amount of extra pay that can be factored into a pension calculation.


After 30 years of service, pensions will be 55 percent rather than 60 percent of pay. Employees who earn more than $45,000 also will contribute more than the current 3 percent of pay, with a sliding scale that goes up to 6 percent for those who make $100,000 or more.


Tier VI includes a defined-contribution option, similar to a 401(k), for future nonunion employees with salaries of $75,000 and above, including legislators.


Cuomo initially wanted the option across the board, but it was scaled back as one of several compromises he made with unions and lawmakers to strike a deal. Cuomo could not estimate how many employees in the group would be hired in the next year. The option opens in July.


The new plan should save almost $80 billion over 30 years, Cuomo said. Cuomo's "ideal" bill, which was whittled through negotiations, was pegged at $130 billion in savings. Cuomo said bargaining was simply a fact of life and he had to cut his deals to end the process.


Cuomo repeatedly defended not using what was widely acknowledged as a hammer -- the prospect that he would veto gerrymandered redistricting lines if lawmakers didn't pass the pension reform. Instead of vetoing and sending the issue to a federal magistrate judge to decide the matter, he said, he won the possibility of a constitutional amendment that will create a panel chosen by the Legislature and the governor to draw lines next time around -- in 10 years.


Critics, including some government reform groups, disagreed, saying the governor allowed lawmakers to engage in self-serving rigging to favor incumbents controlling the two chambers. But the prospect of a constitutionally required new panel was hailed by Citizens Union and the League of Women Voters New York State.


Cuomo praised the Tier VI deal even though the major structural changes in his plan, a 401(k)-like optional pension program, may be adopted by only a few people and that the real savings will come from increased contributions by employees. He said he hopes future union workers will eventually want the defined-contribution option.


Cuomo said he is pleased with the first passage of legalizing gambling expansion by amending the state constitution to allow for up to seven commercial casinos.


The governor added, however, that he thinks it is a mistake to assume that he supports designating the new betting halls at sites of racinos.


Second passage of the measure, next year, will be substantially more difficult, Cuomo said, when lawmakers will work with him to spell out where, how and when expansion will occur.


rkarlin@timesunion.com - 518-454-5758 - @RickKarlinTU or jodato@timesunion.com





Inside


A3 New lines for state districts stand.