2008_09_lirr2.jpgAfter the NY Times' sprawling investigation showing many Long Island Rail Road employees apply for--and get--disability payments after reaching the retirement age of 50, Governor David Paterson is asking Attorney General Andrew Cuomo to investigate the situation. The Times found that LIRRemployees have received $250 million in federal disability payments since 2000, while the MTA's other commuter railroad, Metro-North, has nowhere near those numbers of disability claims.

Paterson said, "At a time when our state and national economies are facing unprecedented strain and families are worried about meeting the cost of basic necessities, we must ensure the most appropriate, efficient use of taxpayer dollars." He also told the Times, "To say that this is outrageous is probably an understatement. It’s one of the most surprising developments in my tenure as governor and even in my long service in government.” And as the former lieutenant governor of you-know-who, that's saying a lot!

Cuomo launched the investigation yesterday, after being granted the power to "probe potential fraud...a power [the AG's office] does not generally have." The Times' findings noted that the U.S. Railroad Retirement Board receives--and usually approves--most disability requests (and the requests come from both employees on the tracks and in the trains as well as white collar workers).Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington) said, "It's an absolute outrage. You've got an obscure federal agency and people who know how to game the system. That's a lethal combination."

Additionally, the Times' article pointed out how some employees are able to take advantage of union rules to earn four times their regular daily pay; one engineer earned over $277,000 (his base is around $50,000). Paterson said, “The thing that bothers me is that this had to be so rampant. I even would wonder if there was collusion between the supervisors and the employees... You would have thought a whistleblower would have shown up by now.”

Photograph by ki.p on Flickr