Proposal 2: Allowing the complete or partial forfeiture of a public officer’s pension if he or she is convicted of a certain type of felony

The proposed amendment to section 7 of Article 5 of the State Constitution would allow a court to reduce or revoke the public pension of a public officer who is convicted of a felony that has a direct and actual relationship to the performance of the public officer’s existing duties. Shall the proposed amendment be approved?

Currently, the New York State Constitution protects the pensions of public officers even when they have been convicted of serious crimes.  This constitutional amendment would allow a court to reduce or revoke a public officer’s pension after he or she has been convicted of a felony directly relating to the performance of his or her job.  The court would hold a hearing to consider the seriousness of the crime and determine whether the loss of the pension would result in significant hardship for the public officer’s dependents.

If a majority of New Yorkers votes YES, the legislature will write the law to put this proposal into effect, and it would apply only to crimes committed on or after January 1, 2018.

The “public officers” covered under this amendment are:

  • Elected officials within the state;
  • Officials appointed by the governor;
  • Managers and chief financial officers of counties, cities, towns, and villages;
  • Heads of state and local government departments, divisions, boards, commissions, bureaus, public benefit corporations, and public authorities;
  • Judges and justices of the state court system; and
  • State employees who are designated by law as policy-makers.

Reasons to Vote Yes

  • A public official who has committed a felony in connection with his or her job has violated the public trust, and does not deserve a taxpayer-funded pension.
  • Officials are less likely to commit crimes if they know they run the risk of losing their pensions.

Reasons to Vote No

  • Convicted officials already face punishment for their crimes under the law, and they shouldn’t be punished a second time by having their pension revoked or reduced.
  • This amendment does not go far enough.  It should apply to all state and local public employees, not just high-level elected or appointed officials. Any public servant convicted of a serious work-related crime should lose his or her pension.

Statements Supporting Proposal

Citizens Union

Citizens Union urges a “yes” vote to allow a court to reduce or revoke the pension of a public official convicted of corruption in public office. Under this provision, in making its decision, the court must take certain factors into account, including the severity of the crime and the proportionality of the pension forfeiture to the crime. It also would have to consider whether the forfeiture creates an undue hardship on the official’s spouse or dependents. Public employees hold positions of public trust, and thus should be held to a high standard when they use their positions to commit crimes that involve public funds or the exercise of undue influence. It is unseemly to allow officials who abuse the public trust to receive a public pension which is funded by the taxpayers. This proposed amendment creates a fair procedure for a court to follow in determining whether and to what extent the pension should be forfeited, sending a strong message to public officials that their service is to the people, not themselves, and that any knowing corruption will simply not be tolerated.

Common Cause/NY; Susan Lerner, Executive Director

Common Cause/NY supports Prop 2, which would close a glaring loophole in current New York State ethics legislation. Prop 2 would amend our state constitution to allow a court to reduce or revoke the public pension of any public official convicted of serious crimes related to their public duties (i.e., public corruption). Under current law, any public official who entered the state pension system before November 2011 can continue to receive taxpayer-supported benefits regardless of how heinous their breach of public trust and violation of their oath of office. Twenty-three other states have pension forfeiture provisions on the books, yet no other state includes such a broad, sweeping and self-serving exemption for sitting officials. Common Cause/NY urges a YES vote on Prop 2.

Conservative Party of NYS

New York’s Constitution now provides that the benefits of a public pension or retirement system cannot be reduced or impaired. The purpose of the proposed amendment is to allow a court to reduce or revoke the public pension of a public officer who is convicted of a felony that has a direct and actual relationship to the performance of the public officer’s existing duties. A Court could consider many factors, including undue hardship to the family and the seriousness of the crime. If approved, the Legislature will enact law that puts the proposal into effect. All public officials, elected and appointed, would be subject to the new law, including legislative, executive, or judicial employees who directly assist in the formulation of legislation, rules, regulations, policy, or judicial decision-making and who is designated by law as a policy-maker. The proposal would only apply to felony crimes committed after January 1, 2018.

League of Women Voters of New York State

The League of Women Voters supports the proposed Constitutional amendment to allow for the complete or partial forfeiture of a public officer’s pension if he or she is convicted of a certain type of felony. After a long string of corruption charges at the local and state level, the League believes this change is necessary in order to further deter elected officials from engaging in unethical behaviors. Although some families of these individuals may rely on the pension of their spouse/parent, judges will have discretion when deciding whether or not a crime warrants complete or partial forfeiture. Crimes eligible for pension forfeiture would only include crimes related to the public officer’s official duties.

Represent Us NY

Represent.Us NY is a non-partisan, anti-corruption organization with chapters across the country. Our goals include stopping legalized political bribery, ending secret money, and fixing our broken elections—all in an effort to put power back in the hands of the American people. Therefore, we support proposal two, which provides needed consequences for public officials who criminally violate the public trust.

More than 30 New York state elected officials have been convicted, sanctioned, or accused of wrongdoing related to corruption in the last decade, including the former Speaker of the State Assembly Sheldon Silver and the former President of the State Senate, Dean Skelos. Unfortunately, most government officials are still eligible to collect their taxpayer-funded pensions even if they are convicted of crimes related to their office. This amendment would close that loophole. We therefore support this constitutional amendment and urge voters to cast a yes vote to protect their taxpayer money from being handed to corrupt politicians.

Statements Opposing Proposal

Andrew S. Fisher, Lawyer

Unless there is proof of a career of corruption that covers the period of time when the right to the pension was being earned, such a penalty would be draconian and would not be in keeping with the protection offered to pension rights of persons employed in non-governmental positions and industries convicted of similar crimes involving dishonesty, such as commercial bribery and larceny.