The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

March 24, 2013

Overtime pumps up some PSP troopers’ pay, pensions

By John Finnerty
CNHI Capitol Correspondent

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Three state police troopers racked up so much overtime last year that they were paid more than the head of the state police or the attorney general.

One trooper picked up almost $100,000 in overtime and was paid more than the governor.

All three troopers retired by the end of the year, a state police spokesman said.

Making all that money in the final year of their working career has an important benefit in Pennsylvania – it boosts the pensions they will receive for the rest of their lives. Pensions are based on an average of the worker’s final three years of employment.

Concerns about the public costs that follow when governments allow workers to run up overtime in the waning days of their careers have prompted “anti-spiking” legislation in a number of states. It is one of the under-the-radar reforms tucked in the pension plan proposed by Gov. Tom Corbett to avoid making $500 million in employer contributions this year.

Three of the nine northeastern states do not include overtime in the calculation of pension benefits, according to a study by researchers commissioned by the Connecticut General Assembly. Both New York and California passed anti-spiking legislation in 2012.

Taking steps to prevent employees from fattening  pensions by working overtime could save $456 million between 2019-2023, according to an analysis of Corbett’s pension reform plan, completed by the accounting firm of Milliman, Inc.

The plan recommends that pensions be calculated based on the final five years of earnings. Corbett’s office has also proposed that the state adopt anti-spiking measures to limit the amount of overtime used in  pension calculations.

State records show that 295 state police troopers were paid more than $100,000 last year. Some of that is due to the imbalance between retirements and the number of new troopers hired to replace them, according to the union that represents state police. When Corbett announced funding for three cadet classes, the department said it was operating with 4,191 troopers, 480 short of its approved complement.

Three troopers  – Robert Buckley, Van Keys and Timothy Flickinger – were paid more than $150,000, according to government databases on the state’s open records website:

Buckley was paid $182,972. His base pay was $87,045.

Acting attorney general Linda Kelly was paid $151,367 last year. Col. Frank Noonan, the head of the state police, was paid $142,314.

At $183,255, Corbett’s salary is the highest of all U.S. governors. A spokesman said Corbett has declined three straight increases, making his pay just under $175,000.

For comparison, there were 37 Department of Corrections employees who were paid more than $100,000, including one guard who was paid $135,436. His base salary was $63,218.

In the Department of Public Welfare, 14 registered nurses were paid more than $100,000. The highest paid RN was paid $147,828. The  nurse’s base salary was $71,939.

Stephen Herzenberg, an economist with   Keystone Research Center and a critic of Corbett’s pension reform measures, said individual cases do not justify wholesale changes that reduce pension benefits for all workers.

“If there is documented evidence of real abuses that led to outsized pensions, we should look at it,” Herzenberg said.

The solution may not require changing the rules for all workers, he said. If a department is short-staffed and workers are told to work overtime, then it is unfair to exclude that compensation from their pension calculation, he said.

Government retirees do not get regular cost-of-living adjustments, so any move to diminish benefits would require close scrutiny, he said. “Computing benefits over a longer period of time is just a way of lowering benefits,”  Herzenberg said.

A state police spokesman said troopers with special training often will have greater opportunity to pick up overtime.

“Specialized positions ... inherently have more overtime associated with the positions. An example of this can be our SERT (Special Emergency Response Team), our Forensic Services Unit members, and K-9 handlers, to name a few. This is because these positions are of an  ‘on-call’ nature in addition to the regular shifts worked,” said  Adam Reed.

Even troopers who primarily serve on patrol duty will have opportunities to pick up overtime for speed enforcement, DUI checkpoints or to monitor construction zones.

Troopers are selected for that “discretionary overtime”  based on their availability and performance, Reed said.