Seriously. Had Jim Marzilli not submitted his attention-grabbing request to boost his pension based on having lost an election that he didn’t contest, we probably would not have had today’s Globe story showing pretty convincingly that Marzilli’s gambit was not an outlier. Rather, it was a standard move to take advantage of a 1950 law (this one, I think) that, in retrospect, seems to have been wildly misguided.
Reporter Michael Levenson’s lineup of legislators who, having either lost or decided not to run for reelection, used the law to boost their post-employment take-home pay, is impressive.
Vincent J. Piro, a former state representative from Somerville who lost his seat after he was charged with taking a $5,000 bribe, used the law to boost his pension from about $6,750 – not including annual cost-of-living adjustments – to $18,872.
Richard Voke, a former House majority leader from Chelsea who retired in 1998 after losing a bitter fight for the speakership to Thomas M. Finneran in 1996, upped his pension from about $14,779 to $28,193.
Francis G. Mara, a former state representative from Brockton who retired in 1996 after he was fined for taking gifts from insurance lobbyists, increased his pension from about $3,783 to $18,921…. Recent recipients include Christopher J. Hodgkins, a former Democratic representative from Lee, who retired in 2003 and upped his pension from about $4,889 to $22,253, and John Businger, a former Democratic representative from Brookline who was ousted from office in 1998 and increased his pension from about $15,083 to $23,301.
Here’s Scott Harshbarger on this weird law:
“It’s ridiculous,” said L. Scott Harshbarger, the former attorney general of Massachusetts and onetime president of Common Cause, a government watchdog group. “How in the world is it appropriate, necessary, or consistent with any reasonable public policy that if you chose not to run for office or are defeated in running for office that you get an enhanced pension? It just seems to me totally unreasonable, and for elected officials this does not enhance their image.” … “These kinds of things become symbols that reinforce people’s cynicism,” Harshbarger said.
Seems about right to me. Now, I am no pension expert. The laws, both state and federal, governing this area are incredibly complicated, and there isn’t much point in folks like me bloviating about what they don’t really have a clear handle on. But one thing seems very clear: a serious, knowledgeable, clear-eyed look at the pension system, and serious, fiscally responsible proposals for reform, are desperately needed. Moreso, perhaps, even than the ethics reform task force that just released its final report. This issue is about ethics too — but it also involves billions of dollars.
And this simply will not do:
The Legislature recently created a 15-member commission to look at ways to overhaul the pension system.
It was supposed to meet in September, but its members have yet to be appointed.
Totally unacceptable. The Governor should take the lead on this. He should follow the pretty successful model of his ethics task force, and he should have a serious reform proposal ready to file within a couple of months.
Because if public officials don’t take the lead on this, you can bet that there will be an initiative petition to demolish the state pension system. And that one will have a really good chance of passing.