NY Gov. pushes for increase in FDNY disability benefits

Gov. Andrew Cuomo want firefighters and cops injured on the job to receive a benefit equal to 75 percent of their salaries

The Associated Press 

ALBANY, N.Y. — New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday rallied behind New York City police and firefighters pushing for increased disability benefits — even as the New York City Council hastily approved a more modest increase proposed by the city's mayor.

Public safety unions want police officers and firefighters injured on the job to receive a benefit equal to 75 percent of their salaries. That had been the policy until a 2009 state law reduced the benefit within the city to 50 percent.

Cuomo noted that benefits for injured firefighters and police elsewhere in the state are already set at 75 percent. He said the city should "do the right thing" by increasing the benefit to the same level.

"Every other cop and every other firefighter in the state of New York gets 75 percent and New York City gets 50 percent," Cuomo told the approximately 200 firefighters and police gathered in front of the Capitol. "How is this fair?"

With union leaders rallying in Albany, the City Council moved hastily to approve de Blasio's proposal Wednesday. A hearing on the measure was announced just a few moments before the hearing began and the bill wasn't listed on the press release touting the day's agenda. With little advance warning and their leaders in Albany, the unions had little time to prepare for the vote.

De Blasio's plan included increasing the payout by removing the Social Security offset and calculating the benefit from a higher salary point. City officials say it would cost the city $47 million through fiscal year 2019.

The proposal passed out of committee by a 4-2 margin Wednesday morning and passed the entire Council later in the day, though not without some rancorous debate.

It now goes to the state Legislature for its approval, as is required in certain New York City matters. If it is voted down, the current system would remain.

"The council has thoroughly examined all proposals and we are proud to support a plan that strikes a fair balance between safeguarding our city's uniformed officers and our city's finances," City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito told reporters before the council meeting.

Mark-Viverito said setting the benefit is a city responsibility.

"The state does not pay anything. This is totally something that we as a municipality have the responsibility to be responsible about," she said. "The governor is going to have his position; the state doesn't have to put any money into this. We have to make sure we are fiscally sound 25, 30 years down the line."

She also dismissed concerns that the bill was rushed through without adequate debate, saying "time was ticking" and the council had to act. De Blasio, for his part, suggested that the union proposal was financially irresponsible.

"The plan that has been put forward by the unions would take us back to the excesses of the past that have led to the huge long-term liabilities that are hanging over the future of this city and state," he said.

Union leaders said they had no choice but to turn to state lawmakers and Cuomo for help. Cuomo — like the unions — has frequently found himself at odds with the mayor.

"Simply because the City Council won't do their job, we're going to have to do it up here," Uniformed Firefighters Association President Steve Cassidy said at the Albany rally.

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