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Politics & Other Mistakes: Pension tension

Al Diamon

As if he didn’t have enough stuff to be outraged about, Gov. Paul LePage has found something new to affront his warped sensibilities. LePage has discovered that some government employees are collecting both a regular paycheck and a monthly pension. According to the governor, this is “repulsive,” “unconscionable” and “absolutely disgusting.”

That’s a reasonable review of “The Human Centipede,” but a little extreme for a critique of the adept financial planning of a handful of public workers. While it might appear as if they’re getting paid twice to do one job, the reality is a little more nuanced. And nuance is not one of LePage’s strong suits.

This issue has cropped up from time to time over the past couple of decades, usually when some high-profile administrator decides to take advantage of the law and engage in what the guv considers “double dipping.” In the most recent case, Eric Haley, superintendent of schools in Waterville, Winslow and Vassalboro, announced his retirement, effective in late October. This enables Haley, 63, to collect a monthly check from the Maine Public Employees Retirement System.

No real controversy there. The guy paid into that fund for years. He’s entitled to the money. But here’s where Haley’s plans conflict with LePage’s limited grasp of reality. Thirty days after he retires, the ex-superintendent will be rehired for his old job. From then on, he’ll collect both his pension and a paycheck, which will total significantly more than the $130,000 a year he was making before he – briefly – retired.

Does that seem wrong? Before you answer, consider this. The move actually saves taxpayers in Haley’s school district money. That’s because state law limits the amount he can be paid to 75 percent of his old salary. So, instead of $130,000, Haley will earn about $99,000 a year. With the $31,000 in savings, Waterville can hire an extra ed-tech or purchase new textbooks or upgrade the mystery meat in the cafeteria.

Haley gets paid more. The schools have extra cash. And the public is responsible for no more than it would have been if none of this had happened.

Where’s the harm?

According to our perpetually outraged governor, there’s plenty. LePage told the Morning Sentinel, “A lot of teachers double-dip, and we’re paying those people a long time at a very high salary – a very high retirement cost.”

Those bloodsuckers should have the common courtesy to die.

“The poor teachers who have only got a few years, they’re underpaid.”

That could be corrected by the state paying its legally mandated share of 55 percent of local education costs.

Setting aside the governor’s seemingly contradictory objections to paying some teachers a high salary for a long time and some a low salary for s short time, there’s another solid reason for continuing to allow educators to keep working after their nominal retirement. According to the state Department of Education, Maine faces a serious shortage of qualified teachers in grades K-12 in such areas as special education, math, science and world languages. Nationwide, nearly 8 percent of teachers leave the profession every year, and their replacements are in short supply. In this state, the number of college students receiving education degrees fell from 1,222 in 2007 to 787 in 2015.

I realize that nobody enters the teaching profession with the expectation of getting rich, but it’s worth speculating that the prospect of a little extra money toward the end of a career might prove an enticement to keep working.

One more reason to allow double dipping: Educators, like other public employees, receive state retirement benefits rather than Social Security. Fair enough. But under federal law, teachers who work second jobs in the private sector (and a lot of them do) are penalized upon retirement, receiving a Social Security check that’s reduced to as little as 40 percent of the amount they’d normally be entitled to.

Speaking of entitled, Maine’s governor becomes just that the day he or she takes office. Retired governors, regardless of how long they serve, receive a pension equal to three-eighths of the salary paid to the current governor, which is $70,000. That means LePage can look forward to annual checks totaling at least $26,250 for the rest of his life, even if he spends his declining years in his house in Florida.

Is that also “repulsive”?

For a transcript of this week’s column, email Or you could avoid the bother by using your computer and printer. Yeah, do that.

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13 Responses »

  1. The Governor earns $70,000 a year and a school superintendent almost twice that amount? Seriously?

  2. Superintendent educational background. most of them have their PhD;s. 130k after 30 yrs of teaching and working your way up through the administration ladders. You don't graduate and just walk in through the door and say Hello.. I'm your new top EXEC. Our current governor, yes graduated from the school of hard knocks, has his BS in business and Finance from Husson and MBA from U of Maine. He's got lots of business experience.

    The difference is that Superintendent had to contribute a set percentage of his paycheck every pay period to his account in the retirement system. What he ends of being able to draw is based on the total amount contributed by the time he/she retires. The state retirement system predetermines how much you will "voluntarily" contribute and as a teacher/employee you have no choice but belong to this system.

    The language around the retirement system is very interesting indeed... There are so many hoops you have to jump through. The worst one though is the windfall situation. If you have worked at all and have Social Security as well, you get penalized and that is wrong. You can't get out of either one of them in this state. If you teach or drive bus you have to belong to the retirement system and if you work a second job that takes out SS tax then you know that money will only come back to you at 40 percent on the dollar. Cause you know , you might get rich.

    But the Gov can work 8 years, get paid his 70k per year and qualify as soon as he hits retirement age for his retirement fund... At least he will get hit with the double dip windfall tax as well.. unless his accountant tells him withdraw his share... and close it... and then he can get his regular SS w/out any windfall deductions.

    But just saying...

  3. To Frances,, Boo Hoo.!!!
    If you hate the system so much,,,leave it and see how long it takes for someone to jump right in your place.

    The Gov has many times over more responsibility than ANY superiintendant.

    Sorry but it IS upside down.

    But you are ok with that?
    BOO HOO !!

  4. 18 people running for Governor, I don't think 18 applied for the superintendents job.

  5. What is interesting in the Governors attack is that it is more separation politics targeted towards education. It's like he has some kind of Skinner box mind control over his audience and the second they hear a key word like education or liberal the lights start flashing and the sky is falling. One could say the old divide and concur mentality is alive and well. Holding the course without looking both ways. I'm a fairly new teacher with over 50k in dept at 6.8% interest, thanks Uncle Sam. I only have one year under my belt but I've already contributed over 2500.00 out of my paycheck towards my own Maine state retirement, I didn't really have a choice. I've paid over 1500 in fed and 800 in state taxes and 500 towards medicaid. Now, I hope I live long enough to get some of my retirement back but none the less if I retire and receive a pension check you better believe that I not only paid into it but I also earned it. On the flip side of this issue I remember the day my Uncle retired from the military, he was only in his 40's but he received his "earned" pension and then reenlisted for more pay for another 20 years. He got a second pension when he retired a second time. He lives pretty well on two government pensions and I will tell you that he worked his whole life and earned it. Now you can sit on one side the fence and shout sour grapes because you didn't apply yourself and never paid into your own retirement but what it comes down to is that if you worked hard and applied yourself to learn new skills and gain knowledge then you will get what you deserve.

  6. Sam,
    How many civilian job let you do that? None. Shouldn’t double dip on taxpayers dime. Just not ethical

  7. Sammy, could you please define "civilian job" it seems like a very broad term. If you like I can give many examples pointing to a lack of ethics when we examine the current business models and cost to the tax payer in late capitalism. I pay nearly 5k a year in just Fed taxes and most of this goes directly to corporate tax breaks. I agree that the double dipping thing seems wrong and I would not personally retire and then work the same job but we live in a capitalist system where much worse things are happening on the "public dime". Sure, keep paying the superintendent his same salary which cost the tax payers more, that seems perfectly logical. I've served my country and struggled to work through school with huge loans. I pay taxes and don't get any tax breaks. When I pay back my government loans I will have given them 70K more than I've borrowed and that is with a 10 year public service forgiveness plan. Student loans contributed 1.2Trillion in profits in 2015 alone so I think I have contributed to my public salary just fine. Would you care to share and tell me what you have contributed to this "tax payers dime" that makes you the authority of tax distribution?

  8. Isn't this the same governor who created fake jobs for his family members?

  9. What I mean by a civilian job is a job that is not subsidized by taxpayers. I pay a lot more than 5k a year in fed taxes. I pay about 9k last year so don’t tell me about ethics.! I could go on but looks like I’m wasting my money and

  10. Sammy, thank you for that definition. I'm not defending the superintendents position but I do respect anyone with integrity to be in service to something other than themselves. Also, today I am honoring my Uncle and all Vets for their service, double pensions or none.

    Lets discuss at a civilian job or what I would just call a job. Why does anyone work for hourly wages? Because capitalist systems demand that we make money to pay bills to survive. To answer your question I would ask that you work for it and take a look at how much a big national box store chain that beggins with "W" and ends with "T" pays the average worker and how many hours they get per week that keep them from qualifying as full time. Look at how many employees they employ at these low wages. Look at how many of these employees are on food stamps and other state welfare programs due to low wages. Now look at how much they make in sales from food stamps and welfare not to mention not having to contribute to medical, also covered by taxes both yours and mine. Look at how many local and federal tax breaks they get from the system that we have to cover. Now look at the record profits they make each year and in the meantime think about how we have fewer and fewer local shopping options. I'm not here to give you answers because we are not in dialogue due to the nature of commentary fomats. All this information is easily found, just remember to verify that you are using a somewhat legitimate site. Journalists are usually held to verify specific standards of fact based information but if you rely on "opinion based news" like the poster of this opinion letter, then they can make up whatever sounds good to fit their point. Al, seems to use fact as a launching point for his b.s.(no offense, Al)

    Now I know this a lot to read but this is how we learn. In the big picture of tax evasions which are a form of double dipping.

    "The central finding of this report is simple: Our analysis of 23 years’ worth of the Walton Family Foundation’s tax returns shows that Rob, Jim, Alice and Christy Walton—the second generation Walmart heirs—have contributed almost none of their personal fortune to the foundation which bears their family name. ...
    The Walmart heirs have built one of the largest and most powerful private foundations in the country—at almost no cost to themselves. They have done so with the assistance of financial experts who manage the family holding company, Walton Enterprises, and the Walton Family Foundation with a keen eye toward maximizing the family’s wealth. In addition, the Waltons are exploiting complex loopholes in the tax code in order to avoid billions of dollars in estate taxes by funding their Foundation with special trusts." - Forbes magazine, Retail Business Reports. Jun 3, 2014

    Just think about that. Think about who will make up the difference so that a few people can hold onto more wealth than 40% of the workforce in our country. Think about how the same people try to convince us that it's everyone else who is at fault. How much time and energy do we waste arguing so that nothing is done? Ever wonder why we, you and me, have to pay such high taxes? It wasn't always this way.

    For the record: You discussed your thoughts about ethics. Personally I'm just tired of the directed finger pointing and infighting among the middle and lower income population because history has proven that this is a powerful tool of propaganda used to fool an entire population of good people. I'm not saying that I am completely exempt from being fooled. I see and hear things that can make me angry, sometime react rather than reflect but lately I've learned to process this and not let my emotional reactions lead a discussion. I apologize if I've made you feel upset. I hope that we can someday move past this and know that we have both been mislead by convincing people who were elected to look out for our best interests. I hope we can find honest and noble leaders who do what is right. I hope we can learn but that we have both paid dearly for what others believe and we are no different in our struggle to achieve our dreams.

    Mr. Firsching: I remember that and also when he gave every one of his appointees a huge raise for no reason and everyone who disagreed with him nothing just to make a statement. I also remember that he hired a survey firm, that was owned by a college friend, for 1 million dollars using tax payers money to find welfare fraud and they they were caught faking the report. Mr. Le Page is not a completely bad human but as an elected official he certainly lacks integrity. I think he will be remembered with the likes of Chris Christie and other politicians who sought office for themselves and used public power for personal gain...

  11. I dont think Walmart is pointing any guns at people to come work for them . They are a business that makes billions
    Not from federal funds or state funds. They are a business and the state and federal government should run the same way. If they did we wouldn’t be trillions in debt.

  12. Frances Lee, most superintendents have EDD's (Doctors of Ediucation) not PhD's (Doctors of Philosophy).

  13. @David Yes