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Short-lived pay raise gives some a large pension hike

March 28, 2006

Pennsylvania activists who cheered when they forced the state legislature to repeal a pay raise for lawmakers after only four months don't have as much to celebrate as they thought.

On Sunday, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that those lawmakers who took the extra pay - even if they donated the cash to charity - will get larger pensions as a result.

How much of a difference could four months' pay make?

Plenty, according to the Inquirer and The Associated Press. For example, Rep. Elinor Z. Taylor, R-Chester, who gave her $12,000 raise to fire companies, nursing homes and veterans groups, will get $97,000 annually when she retires in December.

That's $9,500 more than she would have gotten had she not taken the raise. And unlike the raise, which was only in effect for four months, the increased amount of the pension will be in place as long as former members survive.

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Voters could make members pay at the polls - if they're running. Because of the pay-raise flap, many aren't.

It's the biggest turnover in more than 12 years, according to reporters for AP and the The Inquirer.

The pay raise matter was so egregious because although the state constitution prevents lawmakers from raising their own pay - raises don't take effect until after the next election - many of them used "unvouchered expenses" to collect the pay boost right away.

The action spawned at least two citizen groups - Rock the Capital and PACleanSweep. The latter has attracted a number of candidates seeking to oust lawmakers who voted for and/or accepted the raise.

The pension matter is a bit more complicated, because even lawmakers who disagree with what was done may hesitate to tinker with the pension formula, lest someone be tempted to do the same when it's time for them to retire.

We suggest the following: Bar those who get the higher pension amounts from future state employment, form lobbying the legislature and from serving on state study committees and other panels.

Those who believe they still have something to offer could prove how public-spirited they are by voluntarily returning the higher pension amount to the state treasury.

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