No taxpayer relief anytime soon from jackpot state pensions - Boston News, Weather, Sports | FOX 25 | MyFoxBoston

No taxpayer relief anytime soon from jackpot state pensions

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With the savings of pension reform years away, the number of six-figure state pensions continues to grow, including the highest state pension ever that is giving a former UMass Medical School official a retirement package equaling nearly $1,000-a-day for the rest of his life.

The prize-winning $344,576 annual pension goes to Thomas Manning, who retired as deputy chancellor of the medical school's Commonwealth Medicine division.

"What kind of reform is that?" FOX Undercover's Mike Beaudet asked Michael Head of the Beacon Hill Institute. Head is studying the cost to taxpayers of the state pension system.

"That's going to be a pension that taxpayers are going to be paying for a long time. And he's not the only one," Head said.

Manning isn't the only one because it will take years before plus-sized pensions like his are capped.

State workers hired before 2011 are unaffected by the reform, which places a $125,000 cap on pensions. That means we'll almost certainly be seeing pensions as big as and even bigger than Manning's for decades to come.

Gov. Deval Patrick's administration says their reforms will save the state $5 billion over 30 years.

"I think the public will see fewer and fewer instances of pensions they consider excessive and abusive. And they'll see a pension system that is fairer and more credible," Glen Shor, the Massachusetts Secretary for Administration and Finance, told FOX Undercover.

But Shor said the reforms could only be applied to people hired after the changes were made. Others say court cases set precedents that prevent changing pension systems for current employees.

"They could not be made applicable to current employees. So on that account, the bulk of the savings will come in subsequent years, but that doesn't make them any less consequential or important," Shor said.

That delay makes the savings from the $125,000-dollar cap hard to see now.

Last year 27 people retired with six figure pensions, including Manning, a FOX Undercover analysis of state pensions shows.

There's the Massachusetts National Guard head Joseph Carter, who retired in 2012 with an annual pension of $132,739. He retired after old rape allegations surfaced, which he denied.

Roxbury Community College president Terrence Gomes left while the school was under a cloud of accusations and investigations, retiring with a pension of $154,347.

As for Manning's $345,576 pension, he told FOX Undercover he understands the needs for a cap but says this was the only retirement system in place when he started working for the state.

"For years I made a very low salary. I'm not embarrassed about what I've done," he said. "Toward the end the salary changed dramatically. I think it's very hard for folks who work day to day to appreciate what was accomplished by me and my team and what that would be like in the private sector."

The Patrick administration also points out the average state pension is a little more than $30,000 and that state employees contribute about 10 percent of their salaries to the state pension fund.

It's not just high pensions we're going to be seeing for a while.

Pension reform also targeted group jumpers, state employees who switch jobs at the end of their career to take advantage of better pensions.

That means we'll be seeing pensions like Cheryl Nelson's for years.

She spent most her time before retiring working as a secretary at the Mass. Department of Correction but became a correction officer toward the end of her career.

"We're working on a story about people who change jobs to sweeten their pensions and I'm wondering if that's why you became a correction officer?" Beaudet asked her.

"Yes it is," she replied.

She retired last summer with a $47,700 annual payout, retiring with the same enhanced pension as if she had worked her entire career as a correction officer.

If pension reforms targeting group jumpers had applied to her, she would have only gotten a $27,000-a-year pension, a figure calculated by the amount of time she held each job.

"What happened to the pension reform there?" Beaudet asked the Beacon Hill Institute's Head.

"They see that there are loopholes here for them to make more money, and they do. That's just human nature," Head said.

"When will we realistically see the impact of pension reform?" Beaudet asked.

"I suppose over the next 45 years," Head said.

"Who's on the hook for paying these pensions?" Beaudet asked.

"Everyone. Anyone who pays taxes in Massachusetts, it's going to be you that pays it," Head said.      

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