Heading into the election season, 14 lawmakers, so far, have announced that they will be retiring at the end of their term in December. It is worth noting that for one of them, their annual pension payment will exceed their current salary by roughly $30,000.
By our calculations, Representative Thomas R. Caltagirone will be walking out the door with an annual pension payment of roughly $120,000. In addition to this golden parachute, he will also receive lifetime health insurance benefits “generously” subsidized by taxpayers. With only limited exceptions, private-sector employees are offered a defined-contribution retirement plan, such as a 401(k). On average, they can expect to retire with a nest egg that provides them with 50 to 75 percent of their final salary.
Why do Harrisburg’s politicians remain such a costly anomaly? Because they determine their own salary and benefits. In the Pension Grab of 2001, Caltagirone voted to increase his pension by 50 percent. This pension increase, signed into law by Governor Ridge, is one of the primary reasons the Commonwealth’s pension system is in dire financial condition. (For a list of all of the lawmakers who voted for the pension hike, see this blog post on our website.)
Rep. Caltagirone is the only member of the Golden Parachute Club, i.e., lawmakers whose pensions will equal or exceed their current salary, to announce his retirement so far this year. Getting to the Golden Parachute level requires lawmakers to “serve” in the legislature for 35 years or more and be enrolled in the pre-2017 pension program.
According to our research, the other members of the Golden Parachute Club are Representatives Bob Freeman (D-Bethlehem) and Tony DeLuca (D-Pittsburgh). Senator David Argall (R-Lake Hauto) will be joining the Club in November of 2020, provided he remains in office, and there are all indications that he will be sticking around.
There is no limit to how large the legislators’ defined-benefit pension can grow, so long as they stay in office. The Golden Parachute is the most corrupting influence on members of the General Assembly. It makes them prioritize their re-election above everything else, even the well-being of their constituents and the financial health of the Commonwealth.