Capitol reporter Mary Wilson covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.
Edit: This post has been edited to reflect that the 1995 COLA law applied only to certain state government employees in all branches, not all state workers.
State government reform activists are pointing to their annual update on the costs of Legislature-approved increases to their benefits as an illustration of why pension reform efforts are doomed.
Eric Epstein, founder of the group Rock the Capital, said the late-night pay raise lawmakers approved for themselves in 2005 has inspired the most ire among voters, but it's not the most costly thing lawmakers have done to boost their own benefits in the past 20 years. The pay raise was short-lived, but Epstein says other "gifts" lawmakers gave themselves continue to cost the state hundreds of thousands of dollars.
"As the pay raise recedes from memory, the financial impact it has on the taxpayer is far outweighed by the COLA of '95 and the pension increase of 2001," Epstein said at the state Capitol Wednesday.
In 1995, lawmakers approved automatic cost-of-living pay increases for certain employees in all branches of state government. In 2001, they voted to increase their legislative pensions by 50 percent, while state workers and teachers got a 25 percent pension bump.
Epstein said his latest round of records requests prove that boosted payouts live on, thanks to the efforts of their beneficiaries.
"If you want to know why there's not going to be pension reform, it's that the people most likely to benefit for it, control the system - and it's not just the Legislature," he said, adding to the list state employees and the next of kin of deceased lawmakers as well.
Epstein said active legislators who never gave back their 2005 pay raises include 15 House Democrats and one House Republican. In the Senate, six sitting Democrats and one Republican never returned the pay raise.
Epstein admits his research on the pension payouts and salary increases accepted by lawmakers may include some errors.
"The system is controlled and dominated by moochaholics," said Epstein. "They're mooching away at your future."
Published in State House Sound Bitesback to top
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