The pension system meant for state employees in Connecticut also generously benefits legislators. Despite working part-time for sessions lasting only a few months, each year in the legislature is worth the same amount toward a state pension as a year of full-time work by an engineer or nurse working for another state agency.
Once legislators serve a number of years, there is a strong incentive to get a higher-paying job for about three years to significantly increase the final payout. The practice is known as pension spiking when regular state employees do it.
In the aggregate, since there are many more state employees than the 187 legislators, their overtime has a larger effect on the long-run health of the pension system.
When legislators take advantage of the pension system, however, it can have a larger individual impact. State employees going out of their way to pile on overtime can perhaps double their salary to boost their pension. But state legislators are able to, in many cases, more than triple their pay as legislators by taking executive branch jobs.
Legislators have the added perk of including their mileage reimbursement as part of their salary when they calculate their pension.
Eight former legislators appointed to Gov. Dannel Malloy’s administration will increase their combined pensions by as much as $5 million. Thanks to one reform implemented Malloy, legislators will now have to work in the executive branch for five years to fully reap the benefits of the typical pension-spiking strategy.
But for Rep. Al Adinolfi, R-Cheshire, the path to a pension was much simpler: he lost an election.
It turns out now-U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-5th, did Adinolfi a favor when she defeated him in the 2008 election. Adinolfi put in for retirement and made a contribution to the state pension fund to get additional credit based on his military service during the Korean War.
Adinolfi began receiving his pension, about $450 a month, after he put in for retirement in February 2009.
And then things got interesting. Adinolfi ran in a 2010 rematch against Esty. (It turns out he returned her favor by winning. Losing to Adinolfi set Esty up for her successful run for Congress.)
His victory left Adinolfi collecting his pension – $5,774 last year – and his legislative salary, $40,060 in the 2012 fiscal year.
Adinolfi released the following statement in response to questions about his pension:
“As a military veteran, who served during the Korean War Era, I bought into the state plan for my four years in the military. I have been retired since 1999. My health insurance is funded through Medicare and the state pays only for Medicare part B, which alleviates much of the burden from the state. My pension is like any retired employee’s anywhere else – and I refuse to receive retirement credit for my current legislative term or last term, striking a balance between my years of work and being conscious of our taxpayers. The state saves the difference between part B and having to pay full insurance if I did not stay on retirement status.”
Sen. Theresa Gerratana, D-New Britain, is the only other current legislator receiving a pension for prior service in the General Assembly. She was a member of the House for 10 years before leaving to run for Congress. After nearly a decade out of the legislature, she ran for the Senate in a 2011 special election. Her pension is about $300 a month.
Other legislators used to work as state employees and collect the pension they earned in that role. Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, spent 24 years with the Department of Correction, according to the state Comptroller’s Office. Osten received a $54,000 pension in 2012, or about $4,500 a month.
Rep. Timothy Bowles, D-Preston, worked for the state for 29 years, retiring from the Department of Social Services. He received a $57,000 pension last year.
One in five members of Congress, including Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., receives a government pension on top of regular pay, according to National Journal.