Capital News 6:26 p.m. | May. 13, 2015

De Blasio proposes new formula for disability pensions

By Gloria Pazmino

The proposal would cover members of the New York Police Department, the Fire Department of New York, the Department of Correction and the Department of Sanitation.

Mayor Bill de Blasio on Wednesday announced plans to change disability pension benefits for the city’s uniformed employees to increase the amount of money workers would get if they become disabled on the job.

The proposal, which needs legislative approval from Albany, would cover members of the New York Police Department, the Fire Department of New York, the Department of Correction and the Department of Sanitation.

The city’s actuary has estimated the proposed changes would cost city taxpayers $47 million though Fiscal Year 2019.

The announcement came the same day a police officer was attacked by a hammer-wielding man being sought for a series of attacks in Mahnattan. Police shot the man moments after he struck another officer in the head with a hammer.

In a statement, de Blasio, who was in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday and travels to California Wednesday evening, said the safety of the city's uniformed workers is “paramount.”

“These brave public servants put their lives on the line each day to protect this city and today we are letting them know: we are there for you, too," he said. "This bill will ensure every uniformed worker, especially those just starting out on the job, is protected by this city after a tragic injury.”

Under the plan, the city would use the final average salary or the basic maximum salary, whichever is greater, as a starting point for calculating disability benefits, remove the Social Security offset and use a formula to incorporate cost of living adjustments.

In other words, if a firefighter is injured on the job after serving for two years, their total tax-free disability benefits would increase by 65 percent. For a police officer who is seriously injured after being on the job five years, total tax-free benefits would also rise by 65 percent, aides to the mayor said.

The mayor’s proposal would modify disability laws installed by then governor David Paterson in 2009 and renewed by Governor Andrew Cuomo in 2012. Those laws placed uniformed workers into a tier system based on when they were hired. Disability pensions of those more senior employees are not taxed, while the newer ones are subject to state and city taxes further reducing the overall payout.

Workers with less time on the job receive 50 percent of their pensions if they retire on disability and workers hired before 2009 get 75 percent of their pension in disability benefits.

For the past few months, both the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, which represents the city’s rank and file police officers and the Uniformed Firefighters Association have been in a bitter fight with City Hall to have their members placed into the higher tier.

P.B.A. president Pat Lynch and U.F.A. president Steve Cassidy issued a joint statement Wednesday opposing de Blasio’s proposal, citing lack of detail.

“Late today we each received a brief phone call from First Deputy Mayor Shorris regarding the administration’s new plan for police officers and firefighters severely injured in the line of duty. Based upon that brief, last-minute phone conversation, the plan is unacceptable and continues to create a second-class citizen status for FDNY firefighters and NYPD police officers, who risk their lives every day to keep New Yorkers safe," the statement said. "Their plan leaves in place a two tiered disability structure with some police officers and firefighters having adequate disability protections and others with inferior benefits.”

Before the bill is formally introduced in Albany it will require a home rule request from the City Council. A home rule request is a procedural legislative maneuver which the Council uses to let the state know it wants them to act on legislation that would directly impact the city.

Eric Koch, a spokesman for Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, said the Council would “review and analyze the proposed legislation and fiscal note from the actuary expeditiously.”