The Pension Peril: NY Comptroller Scott Stringer Proposes Reforms

February 12, 2014 at 1:32 pm

More than 700,000 civil servants – both retired and active – are eligible for pensions in New York City.  But are their pensions in peril?

New York City’s public pension costs have shot up by 475% in the past decade – going from $1.4 billion in 2002 to $8.05 billion in 2013. Newly elected city Comptroller Scott Stringer manages five pension funds across the city which total nearly $150 billion.

“Of course I’m concerned about ballooning costs,” he told MetroFocus host Rafael Pi Roman.

In August 2013, Mayor Bloomberg blamed increasing pension costs on “…a benefit structure that promises retirees too much, too soon and requires them to contribute too little to pay for it,” and warned that New York City is not immune to a fiscal crisis like the one Detroit now faces.

But Stringer is optimistic. “New York is not Detroit,” he said. He has devised a six-point plan to address potential conflicts of interest and increase transparency. The plan aims to strengthen governance and internal oversight. It includes the appointment risk and compliance officers, an internal auditing board and implementation of an investment disclosure policy.

“Part of what I want to do is align the five pension boards so that they make more timely investments and reduce some expenses,” he said. Stringer also vowed to eliminate “the middle man,” encouraging qualified investment firms to contact his office directly.

This interview is part of a new reporting project. MetroFocus and colleagues at “The Pension Peril” will be examining public pension policy and what shortfalls may mean for governments, workers, retirees and taxpayers.