N.Y. pension debate targets double-dippers, crooks

Thu Feb 17, 2011 12:00pm GMT

* Criminals collecting $100,000 as retired politicians

* "Double-dippers" also eyed in pension reform debate

By Joan Gralla

NEW YORK, Feb 17 (Reuters) - In New York state's debate over public pension reform, the only retirees more unpopular than the double-dippers are the convicted criminals.

As state and local governments consider how to reduce the billions of dollars they will owe to retirees in future, New York is scrutinizing those who "double-dip" -- retiring early from one job in the public sector and hopping to another. Such workers collect a pension and a salary, and may even eventually be eligible for a second separate pension. [ID:nN16219289]

There are at least 2,129 New York state public employees, ranging from nurse to investigator, who are double-dippers.

Then there are the crooks.

In the past six years, criminal or ethical violations have driven 13 legislators out of office, up from four in the previous six-year period, according to Citizens Union, a nonpartisan civic group.

"We believe that those who are convicted of a serious crime maybe should not be receiving their full taxpayer-paid pension," said Citizens Union executive director Dick Dadey.

Those who left office under a cloud include the former Democratic comptroller of New York City and New York state, Alan Hevesi, who resigned in 2006 and pleaded guilty to defrauding the government. A wider corruption probe led to another felony guilty plea from Hevesi last year.

Despite the convictions, Hevesi is paid $8,786 a month, or $105,432 a year, according to the state comptroller.

Then there is former Republican Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, who is waiting to see if his corruption sentence will be overturned. Bruno, a millionaire horse-breeder, retired in 2008 and collects a gross monthly pension of $8,007, the state comptroller's figures show.

Another pensioner is former New York City police commissioner, Bernard Kerik, now serving a prison sentence for failing to disclose loans from a developer. Kerik collects $4,441 a month before taxes, a city official said.

Double-dipping invites criticism from fiscal monitors who note that collecting both a salary and a pension is rare in the private sector and argue that public employees should have to work until age 65 before they can retire, instead of 55.

"Many New Yorkers would like the opportunity to retire, collect a state pension, and then also earn state income but they don't have that opportunity," Dadey said. "That raises the question about a different class of citizenship where elected officials feel a certain entitlement that taxpayers don't feel they deserve." (Reporting by Joan Gralla; Editing by Daniel Trotta and Eric Walsh) (For complete coverage see Take a Look "Distressed States of America" [ID:nN14158511]