The New York Times

June 16, 2005


Pataki Signs Pension Bill for Workers at Ground Zero

By MICHAEL COOPER

ALBANY, June 15 - Handing another blow to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg in the wake of his defeat on the West Side stadium, Gov. George E. Pataki signed a bill Wednesday that will increase the pensions the city must pay to employees who worked at the World Trade Center site after Sept. 11, 2001.

Mayor Bloomberg has opposed the bill for several years, arguing that it could cost the city roughly $50 million a year. Governor Pataki had twice vetoed the bill, which was strongly supported by the city's unions, but he signed it this year after it was amended slightly. City officials say it will still be too costly.

The new law will establish a legal presumption that city workers who responded to the Sept. 11 attacks and the ensuing cleanup operations, and who were later found to have diseases including cancer, respiratory illness and certain skin ailments, became sick because of their official duties. That entitles them to disability pensions worth 75 percent of their salaries.

Mayor Bloomberg wrote to Mr. Pataki last week urging him to veto the measure, saying that while he valued the sacrifice that city workers made after Sept. 11, the bill would add to the city's sharply rising pension costs.

A provision supported by the governor was added to the bill, requiring at least 40 hours on rescue, recovery or clean-up operations for a worker to qualify for the disability pension. But another provision - that allows city workers who have already retired to seek reclassification for a disability benefit - is worrying city officials.

Patrick Lynch, the president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, said in a statement that the measure showed that "we will never forget the heroes of 9/11."

Steve Cassidy, the president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association, called it "critical for the firefighters and emergency responders who risked their lives on 9/11."

But city officials worry that it may be written so broadly that some workers whose illnesses were unrelated to their efforts after Sept. 11 may be able to qualify for the bigger pensions.

There is already a law, known as the heart bill, that allows many police officers with heart ailments to retire with disability pensions. In some cases, officers retiring with those pensions have taken jobs with six-figure salaries in other departments or the private sector.