Don’t play politics with our pensions
By: Dan Levler is president of the Suffolk County AME. Richard Wells, president of the Police Conference of New York
Working men and women, public employees and taxpayers across New York are deeply concerned about calls from elected officials, including Gov. Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, to divest the state and city’s pension funds from fossil fuels.
With unions and working families under attack, those divestment proposals are playing politics with our retirees’ savings at a time when they can least afford it. Some 1.2 million state workers and 730,000 active and retired city workers rely on modest, yet steady pension returns to support themselves and their families after a career of public service.
Our members care deeply about the health of the environment and the future of our planet. However, we must find productive ways to deal with it to ensure a healthy planet for our children and grandchildren, without punishing working families.
Pensions are a right earned by state and municipal workers and retirees who have devoted much of their lives to protecting and serving the public. They are protected under the New York State constitution and should not be used as policy experiments or part of some broad political agenda. Unfortunately, that’s what these proposals would do.
The Common Retirement Fund of the New York State and Local Retirement System holds $192.4 billion in assets. A recent report found that the fund would lose $188 million to $302 million over five years if forced to divest from fossil fuels — which earn at or above the mandated 8 percent annual return — and replace them with “green” investments that return 3 percent to 5 percent on average. This should sound the alarm for working families across New York.
New York State Comptroller Tom Di Napoli has wisely resisted politically motivated investment decisions over the years, which is why the Common Retirement Fund has yielded a 10.17 percent average five-year return and a 7.12 percent average 10-year return. He has argued that shareholder engagement, rather than divestment, is a much more effective way to influence the behavior of fossil fuel corporations. We agree.
We are demanding that our elected leaders demonstrate the same commitment to protecting our pensions as they have in the past.
Labor always has — and always will — fight for progressive change in this country, even when that means bucking the political tailwinds of the day. We will marshal our collective resources in the coming months to educate our members about these risky divestment proposals and the economic threats they pose to all working families and taxpayers in New York.
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