More retirements by state workers, teachers in NY
Published: Tuesday, 1 Nov 2011 | 1:04 PM ET
ALBANY, N.Y. - New York's large and expensive public payrolls are starting to decline, pared down by more baby boomers hitting retirement age, special retirement incentives offered last year and renewed pressure to cut spending that are all starting to cut costs for taxpayers.
The New York State Common Retirement Fund for state and local governments reported processing a record 30,772 retirement applications in 2010, compared with about 20,000 annually for the past two decades. Fund officials attributed 12,000 to the retirement incentives.
Wildlife biologist Al Hicks retired last year after 34 years at the Department of Environmental Conservation, where he was studying widespread deaths of hibernating bats in New York. At 57, he believed there would still be opportunities to get work and make up the $15,000 difference between the pension and salary of $65,192. He used the incentive to get three years of retirement credit.
"It was pretty darn clear there wasn't going to be raises or anything for the next three or four years. I decided I wasn't going to work more than three or four years anyway," Hicks said.
"You see all across the country job losses in the public sector," said Eric Sumberg, spokesman for New York Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, trustee of the pension fund. The 2010 retirement incentive provided an extra month's credit toward a pension benefit for each year of work up to three years. It was available to those already eligible to retire or workers who were 55 with at least 25 years of service.
Although many factors make the savings estimate fuzzy, the effective savings compared to a recent peak employment period in 2009 is about $1.25 billion. The Division of Budget, however, noted that variables including the type and cost of jobs vacated and if the worker is getting retirement benefits are hard to determine. It also depends on jobs staying empty. But the figure is substantial in the $132 billion budget.
"I think it's important to keep in context," said E.J. McMahon of the fiscally conservative Manhattan Institute. "Government employment is down, but it only began to decline when the recession was two-thirds of the way over; in fact it was increasing early in the recession."
New York's Labor Department reported 9,300 fewer government jobs statewide in September from the same month last year, including 2,300 fewer in the postal service, based on its survey of 18,000 employers that counts paychecks.
New York is not alone. As tax revenues dive, state and local governments have shed over a half million jobs since the recession began in December 2007. And, after adding jobs early in the downturn, the federal government is now cutting them as well. States cut 49,000 jobs over the past year and localities 210,000, according to an analysis of Labor Department statistics. There are 30,000 fewer federal workers now than a year ago.
The New York state pension system had 672,723 active members last year, about two-thirds of them employees of counties, cities, towns, villages, public authorities and school districts outside New York City. It had 385,031 retired workers with ranks of retirees growing faster than active members. So far in 2011 it has received another 13,000 retirement applications.
The New York State Teachers Retirement System is separate from the state retirement system and covers upstate public school teachers. The teachers retirement fund reported some 8,400 retirements in its 2010-2011 fiscal year, compared with 5,500 the year before. Its active enrollment declined from 285,700 to about 280,500 as of June 30, with another 4,500 applications filed so far. New York City's teachers and public workers have separate pension plans.
Retirement incentives accounted for about 1,300 of the upstate teachers leaving but the broader trend had been foreseen, said spokesman John Cardillo.
"The boomers are retiring," he said.
The post-World War II baby boom, from 1946 to 1964, spawned a generation that includes some 76 million U.S. residents who now range in age from 47 to 65. Many long-tenured state workers and teachers become eligible to retire at 55 with pensions, though some are clinging to jobs in a weak economy.
The state government's full-time work force, which totaled 195,792 in March 2010 for the executive departments, state and city universities, comptroller's and attorney general's offices, has declined by about 10,000 to 185,590 currently, state Budget Division spokesman Morris Peters said. In November 1990, the historic high was 230,593, he said.
"People talk about the ever-expanding government, not so much here," he said.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo's budget called for cutting operations spending at state agencies by 10 percent in 2011-2012. Peters said that remains in effect and the agencies have done it.
Hicks, the retired biologist, is still trying to help solve the white-nose syndrome that's killing bats. He started a consulting business, volunteers for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and almost daily talks to his former DEC colleagues who now have the work with one fewer biologist.
"In terms of the future of the bat, it's a huge issue. That's why I'm still in it," Hicks said. "You can't spend a career working on it and walk out because your last day of employment is up."Associated Press writer Michael Gormley contributed to this report.