Lew Leone is the vice president and general manager of WNYW-FOX 5. He is taking to the airwaves with his thoughts on current affairs. It's called "Lew's View." The views expressed are not necessarily those of the station or its employees. In this commentary, Mr. Leone tackles pensions for teachers.
It always makes me suspicious when so-called public sector employees who work for us want to keep things secret. Such was the case for the New York State teachers' unions who fought tooth and nail to hide the pension amounts for their retired members. In May, they lost their lawsuit, and we who pay for the pensions are now able to see where our money goes.
Thanks to some good reporting by Rochester's Democrat and Chronicle newspaper we have some new eye-opening information. CLICK HERE to search retirees from your town.
Here are some highlights. In 2013, the number of retired teachers and administrators grew to about 150,000, which is up 9 percent from 2010. The number will continue to grow as the economy recovers and many teachers near retirement age. The largest pensions of $325,000 per year belong to two retired Long Island superintendents. And there are over 2,200 retired teachers and administrators with six-figure pensions.
New York City teachers have a separate pension system and are not included in these numbers.
So why should you care? Well, education costs along with your property taxes have soared over the past 15 years thanks in large part to increased payments into the public pension funds. New York's pension is well funded compared to other states'. For instance, we all know about Gov. Chris Christie's problems in New Jersey, and other states are not far behind.
Since 1993, New York's fund has paid out over $73 billion, which is four times more than it took in. School districts across the state are still playing catch-up in the form of increased payments to make up for the last stock market decline in 2008. Even with the stock market at an all-time high, the payments into the fund will continue to increase. With more teachers and administrators retiring, greater life expectancy, and higher salaries on which pensions are based we have a ticking time bomb on our hands.
What needs to be done? I don't think anyone ever contemplated excessively outrageous $300,000-plus pensions, so there has to be a cap on the amount. There has to be greater contributions by union members for this benefit, and these pensions must not remain tax-free in New York.
If you are getting 300 grand for life, you really should pay your share of state taxes. Pensions have virtually disappeared in the private sector and should eventually also go away for our public employees.
As taxpayers, let's take charge of this situation and not pass the problem down to our children.