Monday, September 15, 2008

Term Limits are Healthy...For Whom?

On Saturday the NY Times outlined just how a term limits extension would aggrandize the health benefits of council members and their staffs: "But should they succeed, many stand to gain a significant financial perk: lifetime retiree health insurance that costs the city up to $12,600 a year. Those benefits could amount to millions of dollars in expenses over the next few decades, especially as health insurance costs surge, according to interviews with city officials."

The Times goes on to point out: "Changing term limits to three consecutive terms instead of two, as Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and members of the Council have hinted they might, would allow those officials — and members of their staff — to hit the 10-year mark without having to look for a new job with the city." And just like that, the health insurance crisis that is hitting so many average Americans would be eliminated for the term extenders.

We are eagerly awaiting Ollie Koppell's public defense of the extension; that is, if his colleagues feel that he should continue in his well exercised role as term limits spokesman. Here's the Citizens Union's Take: "But the benefit could still open those who support changing the rule to fresh charges of self-dealing. “It’s great work if you can get it — and if you can keep it, because of the benefits,” said Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, a nonprofit watchdog group in the city."

Councilman Alan Gerson makes a good point on this concerning perception: "Like many council members, Mr. Gerson said that retiree health insurance is not a motivation for changing term limits because working for the city or state for 10 years is not an especially high hurdle. “Just about any council member who wants to can get a job with the city,” after they leave office, he said. As for the cost of adding council members to the retiree health rolls, he said: “I just don’t see this as a budget issue. It’s a policy issue, and it may be a perception issue — legitimately so.”

We simply can't wait for this to get a full head of steam. The exposure here will do wonders for open government for years to come.