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State's High Court to Hear Case of Public Pensions Made Private

3:58 PM, Jun 27, 2013   |    comments
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By Joseph Spector
Albany Bureau Chief

ALBANY The state Court of Appeals this week said it would hear an appeal of the Empire Center for New York State Policy's case against keeping public pension information private.

The fiscally conservative think tank in Albany sought an opinion from the state's highest court after an appeals court in Albany ruled in February to keep private the details of teachers' pensions.

"We remain confident that the court will validate the public's right to know how public pension funds are spent," said Timothy Hoefer, executive director of the Empire Center.

In recent years, most public pension systems in New York have refused to release details about pension recipients and how much they are receiving in retirement. The state's retirement system managed by the Comptroller's Office is the only one to keep open the details of pension recipients; it is the state's largest pension system, with more than 1 million active members and retirees.

The Empire Center sued the state Teachers' Retirement System last year after the agency decided in 2011 to no longer release the names of teachers receiving taxpayer-funded pensions. The system did so after a state appeals court ruled in October 2011 that a New York City police pension fund was not public.

The center, which has published the pension details over the years on its website, SeeThroughNY.net, has argued that the courts have erred in their rulings and have confused the right to keep private the details of spousal pension benefits with the actual retired state workers - whose information had long been available publicly.

News organizations have filed an amicus brief in support of the Empire Center's case, including Gannett Co. Inc.

The Empire Center and the state Committee on Open Government has pushed for legislation to clarify existing law so names and pensions of public-sector retirees would be treated as public information. For the second year in a row, the measure passed the Assembly but stalled in the Senate.

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