Update: New York City Police and Firefighter Pensions


On December 20th of 2013, I published a post based on long term Census Bureau public employee pension data for the New York Police Pension Fund Article 2, the New York City Fire Department Article 1B Pension Fund, and the police and fire pension fund for New Jersey. Among its findings: the share of former NYC police officers and firefighters who were retired with disability pensions was far higher than the share for New Jersey or most other pension funds around the country with “police” or “fire” in their names. On January 7th, 2014 federal prosecutors announced the largest fraud ever perpetrated against the Social Security disability system, a scheme stretching back to 1988 in which as many as 1,000 people — many of them officers and firefighters already collecting pensions from the city — were suspected to have bilked the federal government out of an estimated $400 million.”

Last years’ post also showed that the New York Police Pension Fund Article 2, the New York City Fire Department Article 1B Pension Fund, and the New Jersey Police and Firemen's Retirement System are deep in the hole – despite sky-high taxpayer contributions in the case of the New York City funds, contributions that drain money from other priorities. As for the other pension funds in New York and New Jersey, I have updated most of the charts with one more year of data. These charts and commentary follow on “Saying the Unsaid in New York.”

Updated Long Term Pension Data for New York And New Jersey: The Large Plans for Most Public Employees


New York City and New Jersey, like most places, have separate pension plans for teachers, police officers, and firefighter, and large plans for everyone else. This post is about updated Census Bureau data, for the years 1957 to 2012, for the New York City Employees Retirement System (NYCERS), which also covers New York City transit workers, the New York (state) Public Employees Pension and Retirement System, which also covers local government workers (including police officers and firefighters) in the rest of New York State, and the New Jersey Public Employees Retirement System.

In general the findings are the same as they were in this post last year, since one year of data isn’t going to make a big difference for something as slow moving and inexorable as pension funding.  Unless there is a big retroactive pension increase, and its cost is actually admitted to. One big thing that did happen in 2012: there was a huge increase in taxpayer contributions to the New York City Employees Retirement System, balanced by a reduction in contributions to the New York City Teachers Retirement system. And one thing I learned this year: there have been more early retirement incentives in the crippled New Jersey public retirement system than I was previously aware of. Further discussion, and a spreadsheet with a series of charts can be found on “Saying the Unsaid in New York.

The Executive/Financial Class, the Political/Union Class, and the Serfs


We are approaching the holiday commemorating the day when, as Abraham Lincoln might have said, eleven score and eighteen years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. So I thought I’d check some data to see how the different classes in our classless society are making out. According to Local Area Personal Income data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, in 2012 those working in the Finance and Insurance Sector in Manhattan (aka Wall Street) earned (or at least got) an average (mean) of $263,979 each in wages, salaries and non-wage benefits such as employer contributions to retirement funds and health insurance. This data, unlike most you see, includes the self-employed. The average for all the other private sector workers in Downstate New York, including top executives and the highest paid workers in sectors outside finance, was $74,306. The average for state and local government workers in Downstate New York was $100,352.

But not all state and local government workers are created equal, it would seem. According to Education Finance data from the U.S. Census Bureau, as I showed here New York City spent $272,500 in instructional (mostly teachers) wages and benefits per 20 students – by that comparison more than the average for Wall Street. Based on data reported in the FY 2013 Comprehensive Annual Report of the New York City Police Pension Fund and the FY 2013 Budget Summary from the NYC Office of Management and Budget, the average NYC police officer cost $212,220 in wages and benefits – far closer to Wall Street than to average New Yorkers. Similar sources put the average cost per NYC firefighter at $229,140. According to the National Transit Database, the average employee of New York City transit cost $137,646 in wages and benefits in FY 2012, less than the teachers, police officers and firefighters but still nearly double the average non-Wall Street worker in downstate’s NY private sector. The average Long Island Railroad worker cost even more, at $162,851. It’s a tale of three cities, but no one tells it because the first two classes are the people one needs to suck up to in order to get ahead, and the third does not matter. Some charts and additional commentary on what this means may be found on “Saying the Unsaid in New York.”

Public School Spending in FY 2012: A Red State Comparison


As discussed in this post the latest education finance data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that New York’s public school spending per student is sky-high, not only in the suburbs but in Upstate New York and even New York City, even adjusted downward downstate for the higher cost of living here, and even compared with adjacent Northeastern states such as Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New Jersey. Although you’d never know it by all the propaganda being put out, primarily by the teachers’ union, claiming that New York’s taxpayers and children deserve less because we aren’t paying enough.

To put New York’s spending in even greater perspective, how about a comparison with a state where public school spending in general, and spending on teachers in particular, really is low? Let’s compare New York with right-wing, low-tax Oklahoma. A few charts and commentary may be found on “Saying the Unsaid In New York.”

Get Outta Town?


For the past year the State of New York has embarked on an advertising campaign to encourage the growing number of young New York City residents, many newly-arrived from other states and countries and unfamiliar with the rest of the state (unlike those of us who grew up here back when they actually taught state history in the schools), to visit Upstate New York. One sees signs on the subway, for example, and occasionally advertisements on television.

In one sense it is a fine idea. Upstate New York (and the New Jersey Shore) declined as tourist destinations in the Generation Greed era, since that generation took advantage of airline transportation and soaring consumer debt to travel further to more expensive destinations. Younger generations are poorer, any might be inclined to give their great grandparents’ vacation spots a chance if they knew about them. It would be a step up from a “staycation.” But there are some problems. Most of these young New Yorkers don’t have their own cars. Many don’t even have driver’s licenses. And most of the Upstate destinations they might choose to visit are not anywhere near an MTA transit line. So more than an advertising campaign will be required to connect New York City’s growing population of young adults with Upstate New York.

Public Higher Education: 2012 Census of Governments Employment and Payroll Data


Public higher education is generally a state government function, with local governments generally (and not always) responsible for community colleges. This brief post will compare the level of employment and payroll in different places for this function, using data from the 2012 Census of Governments. Higher education costs have exploded in recent decades, leaving a generation of former students deep in debt, but the reason is different for public colleges and universities than for private colleges and universities. In the private sector soaring amenities and rising staffing are primarily responsible. In the public sector, the cause of rising tuition is reduced tax-based support. Virtually nothing, except housing programs for low- and moderate-income people, has been cut as much in recent years as public higher education.

New York State is radically different than other states regarding public higher education, and public higher education is treated radically differently than other public services in New York State. The public employee unions dominate state and local government in New York the way the wealthy dominate the federal government, and the state legislature generally seeks to get the general public to pay more for less. Compared with other states, however, New York has squeezed public higher education workers to try to keep tuition down for students. Even in public higher education and even in New York State, however, one surprising fact has always bothered me. The number of full time equivalent non-instructional workers exceeds the number of full time equivalent instructional workers (ie. the professors). The charts and further commentary may be found on “Saying the Unsaid in New York.”

BLS Local Government Employment Data 1990 to 2013


This morning the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released annual average employment data for 2013, along with rebenchmarked data for that year and the years preceding. I’ve downloaded some of the data to review trends in local government and other employment, from 1990 (the earliest year now available) to last year, for New York City and the Rest of New York State. The data show that local government employment was 23,400 (5.0%) lower in New York City in 2013 than it had been in 1990. In the rest of the state, in contrast, local government employment was 79,800 (14.6%) higher. With regard to the private sector workers that have to pay taxes to support public employees, on the other hand, if one excludes the Health Care and Social Assistance sector (which is substantially government funded) New York City had 226,100 more in 2013 than it had in 1990. The rest of New York State had 2,900 (0.1%) fewer private sector workers in 2013 than in 1990, the Health Care and Social Assistance sector aside.

While those are the changes from 1990 to 2013, however, there was a big break in the direction of things from 2009 to 2013, as compared with 1990 to 2009. The rest of the state, coming off the Great Recession lows, has been adding private sector jobs, while local government has been losing jobs. More commentary, the data and some charts may be found on “Saying the Unsaid in New York.”

The NYC Subway and MTA Commuter Rail Lines Need to Cover Their Costs on an “Auto Equivalent” Basis


There are two points of view with regard to how much of the cost of subway and commuter rail mass transit, ideally, would be covered by the fare. One viewpoint is that the fare should be as subsidized as possible, or even eliminated, and that the transit system should be as dependent as on funds allocated by politicians )whose backers tend to be other, more powerful interests.) That is the point of view held by politicians themselves, who like to cast themselves as “fighting for the people” to “save the fare” while never actually coming up with the money, forcing the MTA to borrow instead. And the Straphangers Campaign, the very effective lobbyist for past transit riders in competition with the interests of current and future transit riders. And some of those affiliated with organizations like Streetsblog, who believe that transit is so morally superior, in an environmental sense, to driving that mass transit should be paid for entirely by drivers. And, contradictorily, that driving should be drastically reduced.

I, on the other hand, believe that the higher the share of subway and commuter rail transit costs that is covered by the fare, the better off transit riders will be, now and in the future. Covering costs frees the transit system from having to beg a political class that drives everywhere and believes mass transit if for the serfs. It frees the transit system from attack from those living in places with less mass transit. And it ensures the viability of the transit system, and the city’s economy, in a future characterized by shrinking public resources and lower incomes.

The City of New York Should Take Over Its Bus and Paratransit System


Metro New York’s mass transit ridership has been booming. The condition of its infrastructure hasn’t been this good for 80 years. Significant improvements in the quality of the transit experience continue to be added, most recently with the “Bustime” system. And yet the metro area’s mass transit network, and thus its economy, may face a bleak future. As I noted in this post, for 20 years, the city and state governments (and the generations their politicians represented) have been unwilling to pay for the ongoing replacement and renewal of the transit (and road) infrastructure. They have borrowed for it instead. And as a result, younger generations face a choice between ending ongoing renewal and replacement, and allowing the system to deteriorate until its eventual collapse (the path the New York City Housing Authority is on), or paying twice – once for their own obligations, and a second time for the obligations shirked in the past.

We got into this situation because Generation Greed insisted on an “everybody wins” deal for itself, with big fare cuts relative to inflation, pension increases for unionized employees, tax revenues diverted to other things, and soaring payments to contractors for MTA projects. Getting out of this situation is still possible, but it would require sacrifice across the board. Although it is probably a waste of time, given that the same politicians backed by the same interests are still in charge, I’ve decided to write about what some of those sacrifices could be, starting with a contribution by the City of New York.

Public Pensions: Old Dog New Trick


After some prompting I consulted someone in their early 20s and learned how to insert charts right into a post on Wordpress. Since the posts I wrote in December, based on long term Census Bureau data on public employee pensions in New York and New Jersey over 50 years, are still what most people are reading on “Saying the Unsaid in New York” one month later, I have edited them to embed the charts.

They are, in sequence, a post of the use of a fraudulent rate of return and asset value combination to cover up the selling out of the common future, which includes the entire database, a discussion of teacher pensions in New York and New Jersey, a discussion of the big general pension plans that cover most public employees in New York and New Jersey, and a discussion of police and fire pension plans. The latter three posts now have charts in the text, rather than just in the spreadsheet attachment. If that’s helpful, you can read the posts now if you have not already.