As comptroller of the State of New York, Thomas DiNapoli is the sole trustee of the $147.2 billion New York State Common Retirement Fund, the state employees’ defined benefit pension fund. Since his appointment to the office in February 2007, in the wake of predecessor Alan Hevesi’s resignation amid a pay-to-play scandal, DiNapoli, who was elected comptroller in his own right in November 2010, has increasingly raised his voice in support of maintaining and strengthening defined benefit pensions within and outside of the state. He is now calling for the creation of a national commission to ensure retirement income security in the U.S.

In January New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo unveiled the so-called Tier 6 pension plan that would effectively reduce pension benefits for new state employees hired in 2013. The governor and his supporters in the legislature pushed to move state workers to a defined contribution plan, a measure DiNapoli strongly objected to. “In their relatively short 31 year history, 401(k)s have proven to be woefully inadequate for those who depend on them for retirement income,” he stated at a National Institute on Retirement Security conference in early March, adding that 401(k) plans were designed to be supplements to defined benefit (DB) plans and Social Security.

DiNapoli won this round. Next year only nonunion employees including City and State University of New York professors who make more than $75,000 a year will be eligible for the 401(k) option with the adoption of Tier 6. DiNapoli recently invited Institutional Investor Senior Writer Frances Denmark to his New York City office to talk pensions.

Institutional Investor: Why did you fight to keep a defined benefit for new state employees rather than permit the substitution of a defined contribution plan?

DiNapoli: With the Tier 6 debate, people ask me, why are you against 401(k)s? I always have to point out that I am in a 457 plan, which has the same structure.

Even if the proposed plan had been passed with an option to allow for a substitution of a 401(k) style plan for the defined benefit, it was structured so that there would be no requirement for an employee contribution at all. It would be too enticing for too many people to go into it and find out many years later that they made the wrong choice, especially if they hit the market in the wrong way. That isn’t to say that a 401(k) is not a good idea as a supplement to a defined benefit pension as part of your personal savings.