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State Retirement Abuses Must End, Governor Says

Governor Deval Patrick has outlined a plan to change the state's retirement system, which he says lets some government workers retire with unfairly inflated pensions at taxpayer expense. WBUR's Sacha Pfeiffer reports.

Governor Patrick says his proposed changes would eliminate special perks in the state pension system that provide lavish retirement benefits for some state workers.

Those include double pensions for public workers who retire but then take another government job; rules that give government employees a full year of pension credit even if they worked only one day of that year; and an MBTA pension plan that lets workers retire with full benefits after 23 years no matter how old they are. Patrick says that lets many T workers collect full pensions in their 40s even if they continue to work at other jobs.

GOVERNOR DEVAL PATRICK: "The abuses and loopholes in the system are discrediting the system and distracting from the good work of state government — and, frankly, just making everybody mad. That has to end, and it has to end now."

Patrick says the changes will focus on future retirees, not current ones. That's because the state constitution limits what he and the Legislature can do about pensions that have already been granted.

He's proposing the changes to save taxpayer money at a time the state is facing a budget crisis. He has not estimated exactly how much money this could save. Patrick also says he plans to keep a reasonable pension system in place for public employees entitled to more modest retirement packages.

GOVERNOR PATRICK: "The honest state worker — and, by the way, I think that represents the majority of the people who work in state government — what we are trying to do is to preserve this pension system for them, the folks who are not taking advantage of loopholes or otherwise gaming the system."

Michael Widmer, president of the Massachusetts Taxypayers Foundation, says pension reform is long overdue.

MICHAEL WIDMER: "If we can just close the door on future abuses then there will be fewer and fewer instances. And, I think, public trust in the pension system and in government can improve, as it must."

The state's Special Commission on Pension Reform will hold its first meeting later this month. It plans to discuss the governor's proposals and other ways to revamp the state retirement system, such as putting dollar limits on pensions. For WBUR, I'm Sacha Pfeiffer.

This program aired on March 23, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.

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