Lawmakers weigh system overhaul
By Casey Ross | Thursday, September 20, 2007
Top state lawmakers said yesterday they’re ready to file legislation to curb pension abuses after a Herald story detailed a sharp rise in six-figure payouts to state retirees.
The leaders of a legislative committee examining pension costs said they are weighing plans to outlaw the inclusion of housing allowances, travel expenses and other reimbursement that former employees have used to pad their pensions.
They are also targeting the practice of double-dipping, in which employees who work two state jobs lump their salaries together to get the maximum possible taxpayer-funded payout.
“It’s obvious when you look at the state pensions system that it’s a big bill for taxpayers to foot,” said state Sen. Ben Downing, co-chairman of the public service committee. “What we want to do is eliminate the possibility for abuse of the system.”
The Herald reported yesterday that the number of six-figure state pensions has increased by nearly 50 percent - from 57 in 2005 to 85 today - in the past two years alone. At least three pensioners receiving $100,000 or more have recently added $15,000 to their payments by successfully including housing allowances in the calculation of their benefits.
Among those employees is William Bulger, former University of Massachusetts president, who took his case to the state’s highest court to increase his annual pension to $197,000, the state’s second-largest payout. That case spurred at least 20 other state employees to follow suit, a trend lawmakers are trying to curb as the Bay State’s pension liability grows upward of $13.3 billion.
Lawmakers said they do not know how many retirees have engaged in double-dipping, but there have been some notorious cases. The most well-known is former Brockton police lieutentant Charles Lincoln, who boosted his pensions to $140,000 by taking a second job at the Plymouth jail three years before retiring, then called off sick 251 days.
State Rep. Jay Kaufman (D-Lexington) said the cases of abuse are not the norm and that most state employees receive modest, hard-earned pensions. However, he added, the state must act quickly to close loopholes that arebeing exploited too easily.