Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Polito's Way -- No Pensions for the Elected?

I caught something on MassBeacon.com today about Karyn Polito, who announced in her opening speech for Treasurer that she believes future elected officials should not take a state pension.

Every time I look over and see the messes in Sacramento and Albany, I believe that much more in pension reform. Every time I read articles like Sean P. Murphy's piece in Sunday's Globe (which was highlighted on Left in Lowell, and should appeal to anyone with or without any certain partisan stripe) I believe that much more in public sector benefit reform.

But I'm just not sure the elected officials themselves should be the first to go all the way with it, because of the limiting effect that would have on who could run for the full-time positions (or the positions that probably ought to be full time, such as the General Court).

The idea of the citizen-legislator who returns like Cincinnatus back to the plow is a good one, but given the risks people take by putting themselves up for elected office, and the tremendous costs involved, it's not always a practical one. The office itself shouldn't have to enrich people to any great degree, but it ought to be at least reasonably competitive with whatever else people of similar interests and talents might pursue.

The current system that legislators benefit from is, well, pretty ridiculous. Because the pension can cover Mass. state legislators whose terms in office end not by their own making, there really was a case, as outlined by Sean P. Murphy himself at a talk at the library last fall, of a guy who a) lost his seat in a competitive election, b) began receiving his generous pension, and then c) regained his seat in a subsequent year, and d) collected his legislator salary AND the pension for the very same seat simultaneously.

It really happened.

And no-show library trustees really have robbed people to buy beautiful beach homes.

And J.M. Curley really did buy that house on Jamaicaway.

But I think the best course forward is to fix the system with a scalpel (okay, maybe a butter knife) rather than just take a meat cleaver to the whole thing.

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