By Keegan Gibson, Managing Editor
The conservative group Citizens Alliance of Pennsylvania (CAP) today launched a new initiative to discourage lawmakers from accepting a pension, among other perks of office.
“The goal of the Ben Franklin Project is to stock the General Assembly with 70 legislators–55 in the House and 15 in the Senate–who foreswear the trappings of office, particularly the state pension, while pressing for the re-enactment of term limits and part-time status for lawmakers,” the group said in a release.
“To meet the goal, CAP will be recruiting and screening potential candidates for the General Assembly, and those who pass muster will receive the training and financial assistance they need to wage a successful campaign.”
CAP currently boasts 10 members of the PA House and Senate that have pledged to forgo their perks.
The state spends about $7.26 million annually to pay the pensions of about 230 former state lawmakers, according to numbers from February. Elected officials are eligible for a pension once they’ve served five years.
CAP Chairman Joe Kennedy served in the PA house from 1981-1988, and doesn’t take a pension.
“I am a businessman first, and I always looked out for my employees. But none of my employees ever got the kind of sweetheart deal lawmakers do, and being an employee of the taxpayers, I didn’t think I should take that for myself, either,” Kennedy said.
A particular problem, says Kennedy, are lawmakers who receive a pension from the state despite being elected to other offices that also have pension plans.
Currently six members of PA’s congressional delegation collect pensions from Harrisburg – four Republicans and two Democrats. Their annual take is about $150,000 annually. Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Chester), who served in the PA House from 1973 to 1996, leads the delegation. He receives a monthly pension of $7,572 – or $90,867 annually. The rest are as follows:
Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D-Montgomery), PA Senate from 1991-2004: $1,528 per month, $18,339 annually.
Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Lehigh), PA House from 1991-1998, PA Senate from 1999-2004: $1,370 per month, $16,438 annually.
Rep. Jim Gerlach (R-Chester), PA House from 1991-1994, PA Senate from 1995-2002: $1,286 per month, $15,440 annually.
Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-Phila), PA House from 1983-1988, PA Senate from 1989-1994: $405 per month, $4,862 annually.
Rep. Todd Platts (R-York), PA House from 1993-2000: $375 per month, $4,510 annually.
Retired Congressmen George Gekas and John Peterson collect an annual $19,137 and $17,348 annually, on top of their federal pensions.
Kennedy is especially critical of elected officials who accept double pensions while claiming the mantle of fiscal conservativism.
“They’re the worst of all,” he said. “Guys like that make it harder for all of us to make our point, and impossible for our movement to be taken seriously.”
“The guys who vote against pay increases and pension increases their whole careers are often times first in line to collect that pension check when they go. Talk about hypocrisy.”
One source close to CAP’s effort pointed to former State Rep. Sam Rohrer, who styled himself the conservative alternative Tom Corbett during last year’s GOP gubernatorial primary. He currently leads the PA chapter of Americans for Prosperity – a Tea Party-affiliated conservative advocacy group. Rohrer collects $2,602 per month and $31,224 annually.
“It’s tough to swallow,” said the source, echoing occasional murmurings from conservatives across the state. “I wish he’d do the truly conservative thing and give up that pension.”