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From the Desk of Senator Craig Johnson: May 7, 2010

Cracking Down on Pension System

Members Who Abuse Taxpayer Trust

New York State Senator Craig M. Johnson, (D-Nassau) announced legislation (S.6823A/A9960A) to end the double victimization caused by public pension system members who use their positions to steal taxpayer money, yet are still able to collect their taxpayer-funded pensions.

The measure, which Assemblyman Charles Lavine (D-Glen Cove) sponsors in his house, will create a new taxpayer abuse assessment to be levied against members of the public pension system who have been convicted of using their position to unlawfully enrich themselves at the taxpayer’s expense. The assessment would be equal to the amount of the convicted person’s pension and be applied to each taxable year.

The collected funds would then be redirected to the very school districts, local governments, and other entities that were victimized in the crime.

“If you abuse the taxpayers’ trust, you simply don’t deserve a taxpayer-funded pension,” Johnson said. “This legislation will end the double victimization that occurs when a crime is inflicted upon our communities, and the community is forced to continue to fund an abuser’s lifestyle. We need to make this bill law and bring New York in line with other states that hold public servants up to the public’s standards.”

A video announcement of this Legislation can be found at www.craigjohnson.  

In New York State, public pensions are constitutionally guaranteed, leaving no current recourse to outright strip a pension from someone who has been convicted of abusing the system. Under Senator Johnson’s legislation, the taxpayer abuse assessment would be levied against pension system members who have been convicted of felony first- and second-degree grand larceny, or a first-degree scheme to defraud in relation to their work duties.

“This is about right and wrong,” Lavine said. “This legislation would correct a glaring and, for many of my constituents, painful, loophole in our pension system. It would also deter others from abusing their positions by creating lifelong consequences for their crimes.”

Johnson and Lavine represent Roslyn, the scene of one of the most egregious scandals in state history. In 2005, Roslyn School District employees – including its former superintendent — were convicted of using their positions to steal $11 million in school funds. Despite these crimes, the former superintendent continues to receive a yearly pension of $173,495.

Peter Fitzgerald, Carle Place School Board Member applauded Johnson’s sponsorship of this bill. “I hope the rest of the Senate, the Assembly and the governor follow his lead and enact this legislation into law,” Fitzgerald said, adding, “As a school board member for nearly seven years, I have seen firsthand, the financial impact on our school budgets, which was the result of criminal actions of a few individuals. As an elected official, I find the criminal betrayal of public trust by a public employee a most egregious crime, and the fact that they are still eligible to receive a public pension, offensive. I believe this bill will act as a deterrent to present and future public employees.”

Pennsylvania, Illinois and Georgia mandate pension forfeiture whenever a public employee is convicted of any felony relating to his public service. Texas also has a similar law.