OUR VIEW: Double dipping needs to stop

By Daily News • Last Updated 3:00 pm on Monday, November 21, 2011

Dick Posthumus, who serves as Gov. Rick Snyder’s top legislative lobbyist, earns a nice $170,000 annual salary.
U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow and Congressman Tim Walberg both collect a tidy $174,000 annual salary like the rest of their rank-and-file congressional colleagues.

Former State Senate Majority Leader Dan DeGrow takes home a $160,000 annual salary as superintendent of the St. Clair County Intermediate School District.

Not bad salaries in this day and age.

But each of these people are collecting a hidden and often overlooked bit of compensation that would be more than enough for the average family in our area to thrive. Each of these current and former government leaders – and plenty of their current and former colleagues – are double dipping.

This is, they are collecting a public paycheck for the work they are doing now and a separate pension check for the work they did earlier.

In Posthumus’ case, he is collecting nearly $92,500 from Michigan’s Legislative Retirement System, according to an investigation the Detroit News released last week. That brings his yearly income to about $265,000.

Stabenow and Walberg both are collecting pensions north of $50,000 from the state for their service in the Legislature, while DeGrow collects a pension more than $91,500, according to the Detroit News.

Don’t get us wrong, people have every right to collect a pension that they’ve contributed to – as long as they are retired. They’ve earned it. These generous pensions likely are a big attraction to government service for many people.

But the state’s pension system is begging for reform.

First, members of the Legislature, no matter how long they have served, deserve retirement benefits similar to the people they represent. Legislators already enjoy a generous $71,000 annually salary – more than a bulk of their constituents make.

However, they don’t deserve to collect a pension anywhere near that amount after serving only for the length of half a career, nor should they collect a pension greater than their salary while in office.

Former Lt. Gov. John Cherry collects a nearly $100,000 pension thanks to his 20 years in the Legislature and eight years as former Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s second in command. He gets two pensions, one from the Legislature fund and another from the Judicial Retirement System, which handles the executive branch of government. Cherry earned $120,000 as lieutenant governor, but nowhere near six figures in the Legislature.

Arthur Miller of Warren collects the state’s highest public pension at $107,747 thanks to his 21 years in the State Senate. Miller never made near that much in office.

Second, anyone collecting a pension should be truly retired. Not just retired from the job from which the pension is offered, completely retired from all full-time work.

Michigan is laying off employees in droves at all levels of government. It makes no sense – absolutely zero – to pay a privileged few twice while people providing a valuable, necessary service are sent packing.

Sadly however, we likely won’t see reform – at least not soon. The same state legislators that are looking forward to cashing in their pension are the same people tasked with reforming the system.

It’s the classic “fox in charge of the henhouse” situation.

Legislators finally acted to eliminate their lifetime health insurance benefit. We can only hope they have enough backbone to fix this boondoggle.

Editorial opinions are a consensus of The Daily News editorial board.

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