AS IF THE lobbyist’s public image weren’t tarnished enough – a shortcoming of conventional belief that LobbyBlog opposes – the Associated Press has published a widely-circulated article that would make even the most accepting among us seethe.
According to the article, private sector lobbyists are receiving government pensions in 20 states.* Stephen Acquario, the article’s opening example and a lobbyist for New York’s statehouse, earns over $200k (more than Governor Cuomo himself) yet is entitled to a full state pension.
Though it’s difficult to see any sense in this, it’s useful to understand the supporting argument. Peter Baynes, Executive Director of the New York Conference of Mayors, who “makes $196,000 a year and gets a 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee,” supports this seemingly misguided scheme on the grounds that the lobbyists who benefit can have a positive impact in reducing the overall costs of state pension systems, implying that the pensions they receive eventually pay for themselves.
That is if they have a positive impact in reducing pension costs, which would be woefully difficult to quantify were it even true. The more probable agenda for many of these lobbyists is actually to cut pensions and benefits received by other government workers, an approach Michael Kink of the Strong Economy for All Coalition calls “do as I say, not as I do,” and which may be more precisely branded as the quintessence of dishonesty.
There are two redeeming factors to this story, the first of which can be generally applied to any lamentable situation. That is, it could be worse. As AARP Blog notes, at least this isn’t Celeste Carpiano all over again (who?),
the executive director of the New Jersey Association of Counties, who — after retiring with a $99,000-a-year government pension and lifetime health, prescription and dental coverage and a one-time $53,221 credit for unused sick and vacation time — filed for unemployment benefits.
The other break in the clouds is in how states are responding. Governor Christie (R-N.J.), perhaps the most vocal opponent of broken pension schemes, has recently signed an executive order creating a Pension Fraud and Abuse Unit. According to the Governor’s office, “The Unit will recommend all civil and criminal remedies available under the law and petition the appropriate boards as needed for denial of a pension or disability application or revocation of an improperly granted benefit.” (Italics mine).
Despite Christie’s polarizing politics, that’s something all but the unrightful beneficiaries of state pensions can applaud.
*Here’s the full list of states offering pensions to private sector lobbyists.