By John Finnerty
CNHI Harrisburg Bureau
Three state police troopers wracked 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, so he 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 pension benefits they will receive for the rest of their lives. Those benefits 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 overtime in the waning days of their careers have prompted “anti-spiking” legislation in a number of states, and 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 used to determine how much a worker gets in pension benefits, according to a study completed 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 getting increased pension benefits by working overtime could save Pennsylvania $456 million between 2019 to 2023, according to an analysis of the governor’s pension reform plan, completed by the accounting firm of Milliman Inc.
The governor’s plan recommends that pension payments be calculated based on the final five years of earnings. Corbett’s office has also proposed that the state adopt anti-spiking measures that would limit the amount of overtime that would count toward an employee’s pension.
State records show that 295 state police troopers were paid more than $100,000 last year. Some of that overtime is almost certainly due to the imbalance between the number of troopers who have been retiring, compared to the number hired to replace them, according to the union that represents state police troopers. When the governor announced funding for three new state police cadet classes, the department said it was operating with 4,191 troopers, 480 short of its approved complement.
But only three troopers — Robert Buckley, Van Keys and Timothy Flickering were paid more than $150,000 in 2012, according to government databases on the state’s open records website: pennwatch.gov.
Buckley was paid $182,972, though 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.
For comparison, there were 37 state corrections officers who were paid more than $100,000 in 2012, including one guard who was paid $135,436, even though his base salary was only $63,218.
In the Department of Public Welfare, 14 registered nurses were paid more than $100,000 in 2012. The highest paid RN was paid $147,828, even though the nurse’s base salary was $71,939.
Stephen Herzenberg of the Keystone Research Center, an economist who has been critical of the governor’s pension reform measures, said that individual cases do not necessarily 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 pension rules for all workers, he said. If the situation is that a department is short-staffed so workers are being told to work overtime, then it makes no sense to deprive workers of that compensation from their pension calculation, he said.
Finnerty reports from Harrisburg for Community Newspaper Holdings Inc.’s Pennsylvania newspapers, including The Meadville Tribune. Follow him on Twitter @cnhipa.
Overtime rules in state police troopers labor contract
All hours beyond 40 hours are paid at a rate of 1 1/2 times the normal rate. If a trooper works a double-shift with less than eight hours between the two shifts, the trooper gets paid overtime at a rate of 2 1/2 the normal rate of pay during the second shift.
A trooper who is told to work a different shift with less than 24 hours notice is paid at 1 1/2 times the normal rate. Troopers are paid double time on holidays. Troopers who participate in special enforcement details on holidays get paid 1 1/2 times their normal pay rate.