The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA


March 27, 2013

Rein in trooper overtime

State retirement system flawed

— We’ve long been aware of a state employees’ pension practice that allows workers to pad their retirement incomes by accumulating large amounts of overtime hours during their final three years of employment.

We just weren’t aware of the apparent massive abuse involved in the system.

That is, until we read an eye-opening report Friday by John Finnerty of CNHI’s Harrisburg Bureau. Here’s what he wrote:

A state police trooper in 2012 was paid nearly $183,000, although his base pay was $87,045. His overtime was so much that he made more than the state police commissioner, or even the governor.

An unusual scenario?

Unfortunately, it isn’t. In fact, three troopers last year made more than their boss, or the attorney general.

And also not unusual is the fact all three law-enforcement officers retired after the pay grab, securing much larger pensions than would have been the case without working many hours of overtime during their final three years on the force.

While you might say good for them, it puts added burden on taxpayers, who are stuck shelling out much more in pension dollars for the rest of the troopers’ and other workers’ lives. 

And in case you didn’t know, many troopers retire in their late 40s and early 50s, far earlier than those of us working in the private sector.

Gov. Tom Corbett is not unaware of the flawed system or the abuses it generates.

Corbett is recommending that pension payments be calculated based on the final five years of earnings. His office also has proposed that the state adopt anti-spiking measures that would limit the amount of overtime that would count toward an employee’s pension.

What also needs to a part of the discussion is the fact that state troopers work in a stress-related and potentially dangerous environment.

Working overtime and long hours required in double shifts increase opportunities for careless mistakes, something we all agree that they can’t afford.

In defense of the department, the state unit is severely shorthanded at a time when more and more financially struggling municipalities are disbanding their forces and looking to the state police to meet their law-enforcement needs. When the governor recently announced funding for three new state police cadet classes, the department said it was operating with 4,191 troopers, 480 short of its approved complement.

And it isn’t just troopers who are taking advantage of the retirement system. As reported by Finnerty, 37 state corrections officers were paid more than $100,000 in 2012, including one guard who was paid $135,436, even though his base salary was only $63,218.

In the Department of Public Welfare, 14 registered nurses were paid more than $100,000 last year. The highest paid RN received $147,828, even though the nurse’s base salary was $71,939.

Government workers should come under pension guidelines the same as those followed in the private sector.

Taking steps to prevent employees from getting increased pension benefits by working overtime could save Pennsylvania $456 million between 2019 and 2023, according to an analysis of the governor’s pension reform plan.

That money would be spent much wiser in returning the state police ranks to their full complement. 

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