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State lawmakers collecting pensions before retirement - abc27 WHTM

State lawmakers collecting pensions before retirement

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) -

You have sent them to Congress and you pay them $174,000 a year.

But for a handful of men and women who used to be state lawmakers, you're also paying their pensions even though they have not yet retired.

At $15,441 per year, Republican Congressmen Jim Gerlach and Charlie Dent, at $16,439 per year, are both cashing in on their state pensions.

Democrat, and gubernatorial candidate, Allyson Schwartz is also collecting $18,340 a year in state pension benefits.

And then there's Republican Joe Pitts of Lancaster. He's getting a state pension of $90,834 per year -- on top of his Congressional salary of $174,000.

"I's outrageous," said Eric Epstein of Rock the Capital, a government watchdog group in Harrisburg. "Is it legal? Yeah. It is wrong? Yes, it's definitely wrong."

It's wrong, critics say, that state legislators can collect their pensions at age 50 while most public employees must wait until they're 62 or 65 for full retirement. The average state worker retiree collects a pension of just over $25,000 a year.

In a statement, Pitts said that while he was a state lawmaker he voted for pension reform and that his $90,000 comes from 24 years in the state house, plus time in the military and as a teacher.

"It's completely disingenuous," said Leo Knepper of Citizens Alliance of Pennsylvania, a right-leaning group that revels in outing supposed fiscal conservatives. Knepper says Pitts, and other GOP member across the nation, are not actually financially conservative.

"There are a lot of Republicans who will claim to be conservative and point to the fact that they're pro-life or pro-second amendment. But you better not leave the good silverware in the room with them because they're spending America broke, and the state broke, for that matter."

State Representative Glen Grell (R-Cumberland) is working on pension reform this summer and concedes the current system, which allows legislators to retire earlier than other public employees, is unfair. He would like to see lawmakers in the same class as everyone else.

"What's good for a custodial worker at a school district should be good enough for a state legislator, or a judge, or an executive office official," he said.

But cynics snicker that such talk is heresy in Harrisburg and will never pass a self-serving legislature.

"The system is a structured caste system that rewards elected officials," said Epstein. "It's unlikely that the people that derive benefit from this caste system have any interest in changing it. Would you?"

But Grell said he would -- and seemed genuinely surprised at the size of Pitts' pension. And this is as close to an elected Republican criticizing another elected Republican as you will find.

"For somebody to be still working after age 50 and receiving that much of a pension it doesn't sound right," he said.

In 1997, when Pitts left the state house, he also collected a $215,000 lump sum payment that represented the money he contributed into his retirement.

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