Not quite double-dipping

by E.J. McMahon |  | NY Torch

Kathy Marchione, 58, “retired” as Saratoga County Clerk before taking office as a state senator this year. That reportedly qualified her to start collecting a $66,000 pension—the equivalent of a job paying over $70,000 a year, after adjusting for the fact that pensions are not subject to payroll or state income taxes.  Which is not too shabby, considering the average private sector pay in the Capital Region was just over $43,000 as of 2011.

But instead of double-dipping — i.e., collecting both a $79,500 legislative base salary (not including added stipend) and a pension, as more than a dozen of her legislative colleagues are doing — Marchione says she’ll give her pension to charity.

That’s nice. However, granting Sen. Marchione the best of intentions, the result is not entirely altruistic.  A politician can buy a lot of goodwill (not to mention, it would seem, income tax deductions) with $66,000 a year in philanthropic largesse.

By the way, a career non-government worker would need to have $1.2 million in the bank to buy herself a (non-tax-free) annuity yielding an income stream of $66,000 a year starting at age 58.

This is not to pick on the senator – who, after all, is simply claiming what is rightfully hers.  Her pension situation is most noteworthy for its utter un-noteworthiness.  A pension of $66,000 a year is entirely typical of what career public employees and teachers can receive under Tiers 3 and 4  of the state and local pension system.  And, keep in mind, public employees in New York collect Social Security benefits in addition to their pensions.

Governor Cuomo 2012 pension “reform” reduced benefits, right?  Well, yes – but not by much.  A Tier 6 employee with Sen Marchione’s work history could not retire with full benefits before age 63, still early by private-sector terms. She’d have to contribute more to the pension fund as an employee than Tier 4 workers did before they were relieved of having to make any contribution after 10 years of service, under sweeteners passed in 2000. Her pension benefit would come to about $61,000 a year – still considerably above the region’s average private wage, not to mention the average (non-guaranteed) private retirement benefit.

Meanwhile, the state Court of Appeals today overturned an Appellate Division ruling and unfroze (at least for now) the $79,000 penalty for a former Schenectady schools facilities manager and union president who was convicted of arson, weapons and other charges after conducting what one newspaper compared to a virtual one-man reign of terror among his co-workers. The case appears to have turned on a technicality and may yet return to the high court before it’s over.

- E.J. McMahon is the President at the Empire Center for Public Policy.