Retiring lawmakers cash in with pensions

A tree on the steps of the state Capitol reminds us it's the season of giving, but for Harrisburg's retiring lawmakers it's also the season of getting.

According to numbers compiled by the reform activist group Rock the Capital, outgoing Senator Jeffrey Piccola will get $211,855.42 in a lump sum payment and a yearly pension of $83,845.80.

Piccola, who served 36 years in the House and Senate, will make more in retirement than the $82,000 salary paid to rank-and-file lawmakers last year.

Representative Ron Buxton, after 20 years in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, will get more than $66,000 a year. He didn't take a lump sum.

“Both Mr. Piccola and Mr. Buxton voted to increase their pension and now they're gonna reap the benefits,” Rock the Capital founder Eric Epstein said. “The thing that I find curious is, as the City of Harrisburg is about to fly off a fiscal cliff, they're gonna retire with a golden parachute.”

The lump sum is the amount a lawmaker put into the system, plus 4 percent interest. The pension is a formula calculated by years of service and highest three years' salary.

The system's been tightened a bit in recent years, including the elimination of lump sum payouts for new hires, but that doesn't cover longtime lawmakers.

Epstein said retiring lawmakers also get health care for life.

“What's frustrating here is the lack of balance,” Epstein said. “The average pension for a Pennsylvanian being $28,000, and then you have legislators going out with a golden parachute asking teachers to take a freeze. There is a fundamental disconnect and if the people who are making the laws want to make life better for everybody else, then they have to live like everybody else.”

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