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Pension? Not for Corrupt Lawmakers Anymore in New York.

Voters easily passed a ballot measure allowing judges to strip pensions from any public servant convicted of a job-related crime.

Former New York Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, left, and former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver were both separately convicted on corruption charges, but continue to draw pensions.
(AP/Mike Groll)
This story is part of our 2017 elections coverage.

Starting next year, long-time lawmakers convicted of corruption in New York can no longer count on their pension. On Tuesday, voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure that gives judges the right to trim or revoke the pensions of any public servant convicted of a job-related crime.

The measure was largely driven by outrage over the corruption scandal that forced the resignation of New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos in 2015. Both long-time lawmakers put in for their substantial pensions just days after their convictions. (Both of their convictions were later overturned on a technicality.)

The ballot measure, Proposal 2, passed by 71 percent, with more than half of precincts reporting.

State Assemblyman David Buchwald, who sponsored the measure in the legislature, said New Yorkers have sent a strong message to lawmakers. "Corrupt officials should no longer collect pension checks," he said in a tweet Tuesday night. "We care about ethics in government."

New York already has a law on the books that requires public servants to forfeit their pensions if they are convicted of a job-related crime. But like many states in the country, the law is filled with loopholes. Sponsored in 2011 by Skelos and passed nearly unanimously, the law exempts everyone who voted for it because it only applies to people who started their jobs in 2012.

Ethics watchdogs generally backed the ballot measure. Still, it won't affect the 15 convicted ex-lawmakers in the state (excluding Silver and Skelos) who receive a combined $600,000 annually in state pension payments. That's because, much like the 2011 law, the proposition only applies to anyone convicted of a job-related crime occurring on or after Jan. 1, 2018. The so-called ex post fact clause in the U.S. Constitution also prohibits increasing the penalties for an infraction after it has been committed.

“In classic Albany fashion,” New York Public Interest Research Group’s Executive Director Blair Horner says of the measure, “it’s purported to act on those scandals and yet it’s done in such a way that would have no effect on them.”

Most states allow for pensions to be revoked when a public official or employee is convicted of a job-related felony. But a total of 19 states have no pension forfeiture laws on the books.

This story is part of our 2017 elections coverage.

Liz Farmer, a former Governing staff writer covering fiscal policy, helps lead the Pew Charitable Trusts’ state fiscal health project’s Fiscal 50 online resource.
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