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Globe editorial

Stop these pension ploys

Pension tension

March 25, 2009
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MANY PUBLIC EMPLOYEES are expert in the game of pension pursuit. But Massachusetts taxpayers are no longer willing to play along - especially as pensions dwindle for private-sector workers. Inflated public pensions are not just costly in dollars, but they greatly diminish public confidence in state and local government.

Over the weekend, Governor Patrick outlined his priorities for comprehensive pension reform. It was a solid list, though largely lifted from existing legislation crafted by the Legislature's Joint Committee on Public Service. Now it falls to legislative leaders to end the disreputable practices of some public employees who bump up their pensions with outlandish perquisites. Such practices are an affront both to taxpayers and the average state employee, who earns a reasonable pension of about $24,000 a year in lieu of Social Security benefits.

Legislative leaders may be tempted to jettison one or two of the more outrageous pension perks as a way to pacify the public. But that won't be enough. House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray must put an end to all of the pension abuses cited by the governor. Among those that need to go:

The "king for a day" clause that allows some public safety workers to earn exaggerated benefits by filing disability claims while filling in - even for one day - for a higher-paid employee.

A virulent variation is the "one day, one year" provision that allows elected officials to earn a full year of creditable pension service for working only one day during the year.

The loose definition of "regular compensation" that lets some workers include housing and transportation costs in their pension calculations.

Double-dipping by judges and others who work the system to collect benefits from separate pension systems.

Pension provisions that allow MBTA workers to collect pensions after only 23 years of service.

An even more foolish law that allows certain lawmakers to collect enhanced pension benefits if they fail to win reelection.

A buyback provision that allows local officials, such as town moderators, to graft service credits from their volunteer positions onto the pension base from their public service jobs.

Lawmakers shouldn't limit themselves to the governor's recommendations. They also need to cap public pensions for big earners, such as state college administrators. A public pension of $100,000 is high enough. And legislators must find the courage to stop basing the pensions of public employees on their last three years of earnings. Politically connected employees game that system by finagling higher-paid jobs at the end of their careers. Public pensions should be calculated on average lifetime earnings.

Public hearings on pension reform will begin in April. But the public has heard plenty on the subject already, and none of it to its liking.

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