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Rigging the system

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The skeptic’s take on the Golden Rule has long been, “He who has the gold makes the rules.”

But leave it to lobbyists to turn this pessimistic cliché on its head. Being skilled at altering legislation, they’ve rewritten this adage to read, “He who drafts the rules nabs the gold.”

An article by the Associated Press published in Monday’s issue of the Watertown Daily Times revealed how agents who engage in lobbying on behalf of governmental entities receive state pensions. The article detailed how Stephen J. Acquario earns $204,000 a year as executive director and general counsel of the New York State Association of Counties. Yet despite his working for a private organization, taxpayers are coughing up their hard-earned income to fund his pension.

Mr. Acquario defended his personal pork as a way of keeping the most capable minds around to help resolve governmental problems.

So, let’s get this straight.

The only way to provide “solutions” to governmental problems is for these organizations to hire people who used to be on the government payroll. The governmental entities use public money to finance these groups’ very existence, and hence the salaries of the people they employ.

But apparently even this isn’t enough to lure the best personnel available, if we are to believe Mr. Acquario. On top of funding the ongoing operations of these private groups and paying their salaries, additional public funds must be spent to ensure these employees have a stable source of pension income, Mr. Acquario claims.

The AP article pointed out that in New York State, fewer than 120 people from eight private organizations are offered public pensions out of the state’s 633,100 employees. Yes that’s a small number, but so what. Providing state pensions to nonpublic employees, however limited in number, does not cover the fact that the practice abuses the very system government is obligated to protect.

Interestingly, these eight organizations are the only nonpublic entities to be offered public pensions. The other seven groups are the New York State Conference of Mayors, New York State Association of Towns, New York State School Board Association, Mohawk Valley Library Association, New York State Association of Town Superintendents of Highways, Central New York School Boards Association and Erie County School Boards.

Hey, where are the retirement plans for construction workers or food service providers who do business with public bodies? Don’t they join lobbyists on the list of problem-solvers?

Lobbyists are the ones who help write many of the rules by which all of us must live. They’ve made sure that their presence in Albany is “crucial” to the legislative process, and they’ve guaranteed that they’ll be compensated at public expense.

The comptroller as sole trustee of the state pension system should investigate this practice and classify it in the same category of abuse as the subterfuge the Jefferson County Industrial Development Agency used to illegally provide nonemployees pension benefits. But we fear the legislature and its lobbyist cronies will ignore this injustice. When you’re the one overseeing the rulebook, the incentive to offer an advantage to anyone other than yourself just doesn’t exist.

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