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Elephants Donkeys Have Long[er] Memories

By Johnny Destino

Dennis Virtuoso calls the GOP out on their hypocrisy.
Paul Wojtaszek makes $165,000
per year from his state job and yet he allows the taxpayers of Niagara County to pay for his health insurance.
Malcolm Needler got the best
health insurance plan. But then
again, he is a Republican, so he
deserves it.
He cares about taxpayers: Richard Updegrove fought hard to get Republican Malcolm Needler lifetime health insurance. Apparently
mending his tax and spend ways, he is now trying to force a woman into giving up her health insurance benefits by trying to embarrass her
into quitting her job less than one month before it becomes available.

Niagara County Republican Majority Leader Rick Updegrove and Republican Legislator Paul Wojtaszek have co-sponsored a resolution placed on the March 19 agenda opposing newly appointed Democratic Election Commissioner Lora Allen's decision to keep her predecessor Nancy Smith employed at the Board of Elections.
The pair claims that this decision was made to give Smith lifetime medical benefits at taxpayers' expense. Smith, who has been a county employee for 19 years, has decided to retire in April at the age of 55 when she becomes eligible to begin drawing her state pension. In doing so, Smith qualifies for 75 percent of her health care premiums being picked up by the county.

Updegrove and Wojtaszek are decrying Allen's decision, saying it will cost the taxpayers "hundreds of thousands of dollars."

Updegrove and Wojtaszek, in advancing this resolution, are either clueless or utterly cynical about the public's attention span.

In 2007, Updegrove himself sponsored a resolution gifting Wojtaszek's predecessor, Malcolm Needler, 100 percent lifetime health care benefits as partial payback for his early retirement as a legislator.

Updegrove advanced a resolution during June of 2007 during that year's petition period in an attempt to try and force out long-serving Democratic Legislator Sean O'Connor by making him choose between running for re-election or retiring with full benefits.

Needler, who was stepping aside so that Paul Wojtaszek could take his seat, was going to be guaranteed lifetime full benefits because Updegrove drafted his resolution to take effect after the beginning of the year when legislators were sworn in for a new term.

Legislator Dennis Virtuoso decided to call Updegrove out for this blatant cronyism and made a motion to amend the resolution to take effect immediately - which would then stop the Republican Needler and not just the Democrat O'Conner - from getting his lifetime benefits - and upped the ante to include part-time county attorneys as well.

O'Connor then seconded the motion, jeopardizing his own benefits, thus putting Updegrove, the man so eager to protect the taxpayers from paying health benefits, on the spot. Since Updegrove was the sponsor of the resolution, he had the power to unilaterally deny Virtuoso's amendment and even refused to allow it to come up for a vote.

In the end, Updegrove used taxpayer money to give Needler full benefits for the rest of his life.

"This just goes to show you what a hypocrite Updegrove is. He says one thing then does another. When he had the opportunity to save taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars for lifetime healthcare for (Needler), he refused to do it," said Virtuoso. "He crafted a resolution to get Needler lifetime benefits costing the taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars."

The other taxpayer "watchdog," Wojtaszek, who, according to SeeThroughNY.net, works full time for the State of New York courts as a law clerk and earned over $165,000 in 2011, is receiving county health insurance at the rate of more than $10,000 a year.

We mentioned earlier in this story that the lifetime benefits were only part of the payback Needler received for stepping aside to allow Paul Wojtaszek to become legislator.

Needler is currently a trustee of Niagara County Community College and his bio on their website reads:

"Retired Niagara County Legislator Malcolm Needler joined the Board of Trustees in December 2007. He represented Niagara County's 11th District for 20 years until he retired on December 31, 2007. For the past five years, he has been employed as a computer analyst at the New York Power Authority."

Not a bad deal! Lifetime benefits from the county, appointed trustee of NCCC, and given a job at the power authority. How's that song go? "Nice work, if you can get it."

New York taxpayers spend billions of dollars a year on health insurance coverage for retired state and local government employees, many of whom are too young to be eligible for Medicare.

But the mounting "pay-as-you-go" costs for retiree healthcare is just the tip of the iceberg.

According to a report by the Empire Center for New York State Policy, the state and local governments, school districts and public authorities, have an unfunded liability for public-sector retiree health insurance of nearly $250 billion.

That means the government does not have the money to pay for future retirees and that future workers will be increasingly burdened.

"This ($250 billion) figure represents a mammoth potential transfer of wealth from future taxpayers to current government employees and retirees—for a type of benefit that is not available to the vast majority of private-sector workers," the report states. "The burden of retiree health care is clearly unsustainable and unaffordable."

The report recommends a four-step plan for curbing retiree health care costs, part of which is that existing government employees and retirees pay a greater share of their health care costs and that retiree health benefits for newly-hired workers be eliminated.



The Republicans may be wrong about Nancy Smith getting her health benefits only because she stayed an extra two months at the county.

Smith may have been eligible regardless - if she had been ousted by the Republicans and the (Republican) County Attorney is reading (purposefully or not) the law wrong to support Updegrove/Wojtaszek argument.

The Law reads: "Eligibility for benefits shall occur immediately upon separation from service, provided that the following criteria are met:

1. The official reaches the minimum retirement age as determined by the New York State Retirement System; or

2. The official is not re-appointed or is terminated due to change in control of the Legislature by designation of a new majority party."

The section under Appointed Officials reveals that if Smith wasn't reappointed, she would have qualified for her health benefits.

But even if that were not be true and that Nancy Smith would have forfeited her 75 percent lifetime medical benefits if the Republicans could force her to retire before reaching the age of 55, this April, this is the system that the legislators have created in Niagara County.

Who, at age 54 and 11 months, wouldn't stay until they turned 55?

In light of this current spectacle, an even better question might be "What kind of bully would deny her the opportunity to do so?



Niagara Falls Reporter - Publisher Frank Parlato Jr. www.niagarafallsreporter.com

Mar19 , 2013