Senator Johnson Announces Legislation To Crack Down on Pension System Members Who Abuse Taxpayer Trust
Taxpayer Abuse Assessment Targets Figures in Roslyn Scandal, Similar Crimes
Senator Craig M. Johnson, (D-Nassau), today announced legislation, (S.6823A/A9960A), that would 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 is sponsored in the Assembly by Assemblyman Charles Lavine, (D-Glen Cove), 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,” Senator Johnson said. “This legislation will end the double victimization that occurs when a crime is inflicted on 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.”
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 has 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,” Assemblyman 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.”
Senator Johnson and Assemblyman 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 received a yearly pension of $173,495.
"I applaud Senator Johnson's continued efforts to uphold the sacred public trust,” said Meryl Waxman Ben-Levy, current president of the Roslyn School Board. “If a public employee commits a felony in the public workplace or relative to employment in the public workplace the crime literally ought not to pay."
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.
STATEMENTS OF SUPPORT FOR SENATOR JOHNSON'S TAXPAYER ABUSE ASSESSMENT LEGISLATION:
Judi Winters, President, Strathmore at East Hills Civic Association, said:“As a community leader for more than 27 years, and as an active participant in uncovering the crime committed against the residents of Roslyn by members of the Roslyn school administration and staff, it became blatantly apparent that merely making restitution and serving time – at the taxpayers expense as well – yet, being entitled to collect considerable retirement funds was an act of injustice that went beyond comprehension. Senator Johnson's introduction of Senate Bill 6823A, to amend the NYS tax laws in order to serve sanctions against felons who serve in the public arena is more then commendable and creative. This initiative by the state is long overdue and hopefully will prevent further abuse of the public trust as well as send a strong message to any and all who have ill intentions while serving in such positions of trust, particularly in school settings where the model of the highest ethical and moral standards should be the de rigeur.
Dr. Tom Dolan, Great Neck School Superintendent, said: “Legislation like this that would deny convicted felons of their state pension is appropriate and overdue. I am pleased that Senator Johnson would see fit to sponsor such legislation, with the ardent hope that it is never necessary to invoke it.”
Cindy Cardinal, Manhasset School Board President, said: "The fact that people who abuse the public trust for their own personal gain, are sent to prison on felony convictions and then are entitled to collect a taxpayer funded pension for the rest of their life is absurd. I want to thank Senator Johnson for introducing legislation to fix this egregious and harmful loophole."
Mark Kamberg, East Williston School Board Vice President, said: “Thank you Craig Johnson for proposing legislation that would lead to Pension Reform against taxpayer abuse. I think it is a shame that a person can be convicted of a crime taken upon the taxpayers they once served but under today's laws can still continue to collect the Pension for that same job that they chose to abuse the system with. I believe that many residents across the state, including myself, believe that those who violate the public's trust by using their positions to unlawfully enrich themselves with taxpayer money should not continue to receive pension benefits from the state of New York. I hope the Legislature agrees and can push this much-needed reform thru the system quickly. You have my support.
Peter Fitzgerald, Carle Place School Board Member said: “I applaud Senator Johnson’s sponsorship of this bill and I hope the rest of the Senate, the Assembly and the Governor follow his lead and enact this legislation into law. 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.”
Marianna Wohlgemuth, President of the Lakeville Estates Civic Association, said: "I am hopeful that this new legislation being proposed by Senator Johnson will deter public employees from committing acts of a criminal nature. As taxpayers, we need to be protected from people who look to personally benefit from their so-called public service in a negative manner. I commend Senator Johnson for taking this initiative."