ALBANY, N.Y. -- Four veteran New York lawmakers who have reached retirement age are collecting state pension payments at the same time they continue to get their regular paychecks.
In those cases, the practice is legal, though different rules apply for those who entered the pension system in 1995 or later.
In one example of so-called "double dipping," Assemblyman Harvey Weisenberg retired last year, yet returned to work at the start of his next term.
Now the Nassau County Democrat is paid $101,500 in salary and about $72,000 in pension benefits. He said he didn't pursue the benefit for years after he first became eligible at age 65. But when he turned 75, he wanted to be sure his wife would be provided for.
"I didn't do anything wrong," he said Tuesday. "I did what I was advised to do, and what I was told to do by law. And I'm still working. I'm earning my salary and I also earned my pension."
The benefit has been grandfathered in for lawmakers who entered the pension system before 1995. Those who return to work for the state after then are limited to no more than a $30,000 salary before the pension benefits are limited. However, after age 65, that cap no longer applies.
It's not a common privilege in the private sector to retire and go straight back to work getting both benefits. In rare cases, some retired state workers can apply for waivers to allow them to return to their jobs and keep their full pension. Without the waiver they would be subject to the salary cap or lose their pension.
"I'm surprised more aren't doing it," said E.J. McMahon, director of the Empire Center for New York State Policy, part of the fiscally conservative Manhattan Institute.
"They're gaming the system just like everybody else does, because the system compels you to game it," he said. "You have overwhelming incentive."
Assemblyman John McEneny, a 65-year-old Albany Democrat, said when he started working for the state, the pay was very low and the benefits were excellent. Over the decades he's seen the pay improve and the benefits diminish.
"I'm a full-time assemblyman," McEneny said. "It's the only thing I've done for 17 years. I have no outside income."
He makes $101,500 in salary and collects a pension of about $72,000 after retiring last year, according to data provided by the state comptroller's office.
Brooklyn Assemblywoman Rhoda Jacobs and Jamestown Assemblyman William Parment, both Democrats, also receive pensions, stipends and a base salary.
Citing that difference between private and public sector work, some lawmakers argue it's reasonable to expect the benefits that come with a career of low wages. The base salary for a lawmaker is $79,500. Many collect additional stipends for service on committees.
Republican Sen. George Winner, 60, of Elmira, takes a pension from his years of state service in the Assembly, and collects his Senate paycheck.
"There are lots of people in the Legislature receiving pensions from prior public service, retired police officers, teachers," Winner said, noting that he's saving the state money because it no longer contributes to his pension accrual.
"I'm eligible for one pension in my career and I'm not seeking an additional pension," he said.
Assemblyman Robert Reilly receives a pension from his time working as an Albany County legislator and in education, but donates his full Assembly salary each year to charities in his district.
Reilly said it was "questionable" for his colleagues to collect retirement when returning to the same jobs, but he doesn't advocate for other lawmakers to give up their salaries.
State lawmakers increased taxes and fees more than $4 billion this year.
The New York Times first reported the pension practice Tuesday.
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