There is something untoward about a state legislator who collects a pension while still doing the people’s business in Albany. But in the case of two Assemblywomen who are facing stiff primary challenges, the transgression ranges from mildly offensive to genuinely repugnant.
Assemblywoman Joan Millman (D–Carroll Gardens) worked as a city school teacher for 27 years before being elected to the legislature in 1997. Before that election, she put in for her pension. After taking office, she declined to defer her retirement payments, despite the fact that she would now be earning two paychecks from the public.
Assemblywoman Rhoda Jacobs (D–Flatbush) has been in the legislature since most of us were in diapers. Two years ago, she started collecting her pension from her long service as an assemblywoman — even as she continued to serve in the same job. So get this, folks: She’s working hard as your assemblywoman — but she’s retired, too.
And now she’s making $175,500 — all from you.
Both candidates’ opponents in the Sept. 14 Democratic primary have tried to make hay out of this lush field of cut grass before them: two lawmakers who have put themselves into one of the highest tax brackets by taking their retirement pay before they’re retired.
In Millman’s case, challenger Doug Biviano argues that by taking her pension and becoming a rich lady, the lawmaker is out of touch with the struggles of her constituents. Almost by definition, he is right; but Biviano’s train of outrage goes off the rails when he suggests that Millman’s decision not to defer her pension while she’s in office is indicative of a larger corruption or insensitivity to other workers’ pensions. In fact, as a pensioner herself, Millman could argue that there’s no one better to look after her constituents’ retirement savings.
Jacobs’s case presents the far more offensive example of an out-of-touch legislator. Yes, it’s legal for her to collect the pension for the job she still holds. But legality is a sheet of paper you file at the pension office; morality is what you tell yourself when you turn out the light. In her own inner pillow talk, Jacobs needs to remind herself that she works for the people of the State of New York, and it’s simply unacceptable to be paid twice for the same public job.
Need more evidence that Jacobs’s double dipping is wrong? The state legislature — the same esteemed body that can’t pass a budget on time, can’t manage our local transit system, and can’t pass an ethics bill without SUV-sized loopholes — actually changed the law in 1995 so that future lawmakers (emphasis on future) can’t do exactly what Jacobs now does.
For once, Albany got it right. Jacobs still has it wrong.