Senate must approve bill

Taxpayers should know how much government employees are receiving for their pensions.

However, a court decision in 2011 ruled that public employee pension data could remain secret.

Why? A concern about who is a “retiree” and who is a “beneficiary.”

Generally, information about beneficiaries – spouses and others who inherit an public employee’s pension – was confidential, while the public employee’s pension was considered a public document.

Assemblyman Steve Englebright has sponsored legislation to clarify what the terms “retiree” and “beneficiary” mean when it comes to the Freedom of Information Law.

As a news release from Englebright and Assembly Speaker?Sheldon?Silver noted, the bill would require the disclosure, in response to a FOIL request, of the name of a retiree of the New York State Public Employee’s Retirement System but not the names of their beneficiaries.

On Wednesday, the bill passed the Assembly and will be delivered to the state Senate.

Of course, the bill died in the state Senate last year after receiving overwhelming support in the Assembly.

Now is the time – during?Sunshine Week, a national initiative aimed at highlighting the importance of transparency and the public’s right to know about the inner workings of its government – for state senators to show their support for open government and get behind this bill.

It’s important to have the names of retirees. Having the names allows people to get a look at the so-called double dippers, employees who legally retire from one government job, receive benefits and then take another government job, collecting even more money from the system. It’s perfectly legal, but it is costly for taxpayers.

By the same token, having the names of retirees also puts a face on the issue. It is easy to talk about cutting off payments to double dippers, but having a name forces people to realize exactly who such a change will affect – and how much money a proposal could cost someone.

Ultimately, the public is paying for these pensions. Hiding the information serves no public interest.