The idea of capping pay and pensions provokes a lot of questions. Here are some of the questions we’ve heard, along with some answers.
Q: Would the pay caps affect those who now make more than $100K?
A: In the long run, yes. But in the short run, some employees are immune to having their pay cut.
Judges, for example, are protected by the state Constitution. A judge’s pay cannot be reduced during his or her term. There’s a good reason for this – it protects judicial independence. Personally I don’t think that argument applies when the same pay cap would be applied across the board to all state employees, but I’m not likely to win that argument in Court. Nevertheless, the pay caps would kick in when a judge’s term expires. If that judge runs for and wins reelection, or if another person takes the seat, the pay would be capped at that point.
Union contracts would also be protected. They are typically two or three years long. Once a union contract expires, the pay cap rule would prohibit pay over $100K in future contracts.
Q: Would the $100K cap apply to all public employees?
A: No. For certain professions the cap might have to be higher. A good example is physicians. A $100K cap would clearly be too low for them. We haven’t determined a final number for a physician cap, but it would most likely be around $200-250K.
Higher caps might be appropriate for some other areas, which would be considered on a case-by-case basis.
Q: What about lawyers?
A: The cap for lawyers would be $100K. There are plenty of lawyers who would jump at the chance to get a public sector job paying that much.
Q: Could overtime push pay over $100K?
A: No. The cap covers total pay, not just salary. There have been so many abuses of overtime pay that the cap has to apply here. There are a lot of people in the world who work long hours for less than $100K in pay.
Q: Would there be any safety valves?
A: Yes. Going along with the idea of a Say on Pay for Voters, the pay for any job, or group of jobs, could have the cap increased if the voters approve. For example, if a Town Board wanted to pay its police chief more than $100K, it could do so by putting the proposal on the ballot for the next town election.
Q: Would the caps include a COLA (cost-of-living adjustment)?
A: No. In the real world, most of us do not get a COLA for our jobs. In our view, the caps should only be raised if the voters approve it in a referendum.
Q: Would the pension cap apply to someone whose pension is already higher than $75K?
A: Yes and No. We can’t take away what someone has already earned. Anyone receiving a pension already would be unaffected. For someone who is currently working, and has earned a pension greater than $75K, we can’t reduce it. But they would be capped at the amount they’ve earned at the date the cap becomes effective. Anyone who has yet to earn $75K in their pension would be capped at $75K.
Q: Would the caps be higher in New York City?
A: No. We occasionally hear people say things like: “But you can’t live on $100K in New York City.” This is nonsense. The average income in Manhattan is far below $100,000.