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New York Post

Mike's 9/11 $$ Shock

By CARL CAMPANILE

August 9, 2006 -- A bill granting generous death benefits to families of retired cops and firefighters who die after working at Ground Zero should be vetoed by Gov. Pataki as too expensive, Mayor Bloomberg says in an explosive letter opposing the measure.

TRAGIC COUPLE: Detective James Zadroga died in January after working at Ground Zero, spurring a benefits-legislation fight. Wife Ronda died in 2004.      
TRAGIC COUPLE: Detective James Zadroga died in January after working at Ground Zero, spurring a benefits-legislation fight. Wife Ronda died in 2004.  

The legislation was spurred by retired Detective James Zadroga's January death from lung disease.

A coroner blamed toxic fumes he breathed while toiling for 470 hours at the trade-center site.

At present, death benefits are granted only to the family of an officer who dies in the line of duty.

Families of retired responders who died after working at Ground Zero are now entitled to the less generous "accidental disability pensions."

"The city is constrained to oppose this legislation due to its unbudgeted costs in the form of increased employer pension contributions, its many unmanageable precedents and the countless technical deficiencies and ambiguities," Bloomberg legislative representative Michelle Goldstein wrote in a letter to Pataki.

Goldstein said it is "unprecedented" for a public pension system to pay a death benefit to the survivor of a retired responder who dies from a work-related illness.

In short, Goldstein said the bill would treat World Trade Center responders more favorably than other workers who retire and subsequently die of a job-related illness.

"It is questionable whether these benefits should be extended to any limited group of heroic employees where such benefits are not available to other public employees who render equally heroic service," Goldstein said.

The Bloomberg aide said the bill would cost the city from $5 million to $10 million a year.

Goldstein also complained of a "seemingly endless window of eligibility" - suggesting that a responder diagnosed with cancer in 2038 and dies in 2040 could receive the death benefit "regardless of whether the person's WTC-related work caused the cancer."

Also, Goldstein contends that Zadroga's surviving daughter would not be eligible for the death benefit because of the way the bill is worded.

The city Law Department later issued a statement suggesting the federal government pay the additional cost.

carl.campanile@nypost.com