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Some state retirees living large on public pensions, Inquirer finds

Report reveals public pensions that a Rockefeller would envy.
Former Gov. Tom Corbett fought unsuccessfully for a greater focus on pension reform. (Wikimedia Commons)

What pension crisis? It’s not often spoken about, but Pennsylvania's impending pension obligations to public employees now totals some $70 billion, up $50 billion in the last decade and a half.

How will we come up with the money? Don’t ask. One-term former Governor Tom Corbett learned that the hard way, after his pursuit of pension reform made him a laughing stock during the give-and-take of state budget negotiations.

But the Philadelphia Inquirer has delved into the issue, and on Monday revealed just how much top pension earners get paid every year by taxpayers for the rest of their lives.

The top earner was 71-year-old former Penn State President Rodney Erickson, who gets $477,591 a year for his 42 years of service. Erickson, who earned $633,336 at the end of his tenure in 2014, also got paid out for his severance, a bonus and life insurance payouts, according to the Inquirer.

For the 127,000 former public employees who currently receive pensions, the average pension was $27,722.

But retired employees like former Penn State administrator Gary Schultz, who pleaded guilty to endangering the welfare of a child for not reporting serial child molester Jerry Sandusky to authorities, gets $330,699 a year. (In fact, even Sandusky still gets his $59,000 per year pension.)

It looks like in Pennsylvania, public higher education really pays: 124 of the top 500 earners (all over $100,000) worked at Penn State and 143 at the PA State System of Higher Education, the Inquirer found.

The Inquirer reported that pension debt exploded from $20 billion in 2001 to $70 billion in 2017 due to expansions of benefits made in the early '00s “when the pension system was flush.” 

In June, Gov. Tom Wolf signed a pension reform bill with bipartisan support which is intended to shave billions off the debt in coming years while reducing investment risks.

Read the full report at Philly.com.