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Waste Watchers Investigates: Double-dipping state lawmakers

February 13, 2019 06:22 PM

ALBANY - Lawmakers at the New York State Capitol know about a way to get paid twice. After getting re-elected, a lawmaker can retire at the end of one term and start again the next day. That way, they can receive both a pension check and a paycheck.

Assemblyman David McDonough is drawing both a pension and a paycheck. However, he doesn't want to be called a double dipper.

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"I'm not a double dipper, I'm a partial dipper," said McDonough, R - Nassau County.

According to documents from the state, McDonough is one of four state lawmakers elected after 1995 who are drawing both a pension and a salary.

There is a limit for these lawmakers. After they make $30,000 in salary on the year, by about springtime, their monthly pension checks stop.

McDonough says he did it, so his wife would still get his pension when he died.

"I would not have done it that soon, except for the fact I was five years older than my wife, and I figured I would pass first and I wanted to protect her," said McDonough.

McDonough's wife has since passed away. 

Assemblyman Michael Fitzpatrick is not yet drawing his pension, but he understands the motivation of lawmakers who are taking both.

"I'm complaining about the rule. They are acting to their own best interest. That's human nature, you would do it, I would do it, anybody would do that," said Fitzpatrick, R - Suffolk County.

Fitzpatrick has a bill to change the rules. He wants to do away with pensions-as-we-know-them for elected officials.

"Elected officials should only be in a defined contribution or a 401(k) style pension platform," said Fitzpatrick.

We made the distinction about 1995 before, because retirement-age lawmakers elected before 1995 can collect both their full pension and a full salary. That is 10 lawmakers, according to the documents from the state.

After 32 years in the legislature, those documents say Senator Jim Seward has a $72,000 pension. After a recent pay raise, he and other lawmakers will receive a $110,000 salary this year. Lawmaker salaries will increase until reaching $130,000 in 2021.

"I did exercise the option to protect my spouse, I think many people in my position would do the same," said Sen. Seward, R - Otsego County.

Seward was diagnosed with cancer in 2016. He too, filed for his pension, so his wife would get it even if he passed away.

However, Seward says making new rules for the other lawmakers was the right move.

"In terms of changing the practice. It has been changed since 1995 -- and I think it's appropriate that that happened," said Seward.

Changing the law to stop current lawmakers from so-called double dipping might take a constitutional amendment, because it deals with pensions.  Unless that happens, these lawmakers will have the option to draw both.

NewsChannel 13 reached out to each of these lawmakers. McDonough and Fitzpatrick are the only ones who met with us willingly.

A previous investigation showed nearly 900 other state employees using a waiver to get both a full pension and a full salary. There are special rules for elected officials. 

Some lawmakers retired from other state and local positions before entering the legislature. NewsChannel 13 focused on lawmakers who retired from a state legislature position, only to start at the same position again.

There are also lawmakers who worked for local and state government before becoming a state lawmaker. Their pensions grew during their entire time working for government.


WEB EXTRA: Double-dipping lawmakers chart

Credits

Asa Stackel

Copyright 2019 WNYT-TV LLC, a Hubbard Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved

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