Some argue that giving COLA back to the state or to charity isn’t enough
By Eric Boehm | PA Independent
HARRISBURG — Lawmakers and executive officials here received an automatic 3 percent pay increase Thursday, and even if they give the extra pay back to the state or away to charity, taxpayers will shoulder the extra cost for years to come.
That’s because the higher pay will be reflected in lawmakers’ and state officials’ pension calculations.
The increased pay has a ripple effect. Even if lawmakers decline the pay increases this year — keeping their current salary of $79,613 — the higher amount is still figured into pension calculations. Under the state’s pension formula, a member’s average salary over their last three years of work is used to determine pension payments.
Lawmakers also are allowed to begin collecting their pensions at age 50, while most other state workers have to wait until they are 60 years old.
Robin Mastrocola, a former president of the Monroe County League of Women Voters, which advocates for accountable and transparent government, said the public pensions were “outrageous” when compared with what is available in the private sector and criticized lawmakers for receiving pay increases.
“Because of the limited amount of time that they spend in the Legislature and the huge expense account that they get, I think it could be tailored down to a more realistic expense for the time they put in,” Mastrocola told the PA Independent on Thursday.
The formula for calculating the pay increase is based on Philadelphia’s cost-of-living index, the most expensive region in the state. Since the Philadelphia index climbed by 3 percent this year, lawmakers received a 3 percent raise — no matter where they live — thanks to a controversial 1995 law.
Gov. Tom Corbett said last week that he will give his pay increase back to the state Treasury Department. The governor is eligible for a salary of $177,888, which is up from $174,914 last year.
State Sen. Lisa Boscola
, D-Northampton, is one of dozens of lawmakers who gives her pay raise to local charities each year.
“She wants to keep it in the Lehigh Valley,” said Stephen DeFrank, Boscola’s chief of staff. “She doesn’t want to send it to other parts of the state; she wants to keep it at home.”
Gary English, a political commentator from Allegheny County, argued that the donations to charity still benefit the lawmakers who make them.
“If you take the money and you donate it to charity, you get a tax write off,” English said. “And then that money is added to your pension, which is a legacy cost to the commonwealth.”
He also said the pay increase is unconstitutional, because lawmakers are supposed to have to wait until after they have won re-election to take a pay increase.
However, the state Supreme Court upheld the 1995 pay increase law when it was challenged.
This story was updated to clarify the retirement ages of state workers at 3:14 p.m. on 12/2/11.