This week, Assemblyman Vito Lopez was caught in the ultimate Albany scam — he wants to start collecting his pension even though he’s about to start his 14th term.
This being an Albany scam, of course, it’s completely legal — the people who get this astounding benefit are the same people who write the laws, after all.
The rest of us, of course, have to actually retire before we can start collecting our retirement. That makes sense to us. But then again, we’re not malodorous pols at the statehouse trough.
Lopez is not the first state lawmaker to take advantage of the double-dipping loophole. Rhoda Jacobs (D–Flatbush) not only does it, but gets angry whenever the scam is mentioned.
Like other pols who have been caught double-dipping, she makes the predictable defense that the practice is completely legal, and that the money is hers.
Lopez’s chief of staff issued a similar defense to our own Aaron Short, claiming that Lopez’s decades of “public service” make it all OK.
Sure, the practice can be defended on legal grounds, but it can not be defended ethically, morally, fiscally, or by the most basic of legislative yardsticks: the double-dipping pol’s constituents are not equally entitled to do it.
Worse, elected officials toss around the term “public service” as if they are literally sacrificing their lives, like Schweitzer in the jungle, in dedication to their constituents. But Lopez is very well paid for his “public service,” drawing a $92,000 salary that makes him one of his neighborhood’s biggest wage-earners. The pension would pay him another $88,000 per year.
This comes on top of another salary scandal this year that would have weakened other lawmakers. It involved the mega-salaries that a Lopez-backed charity pays its two top executives, who are, conveniently enough, Lopez’s campaign treasurer and his girlfriend.
Amid that scandal, Lopez applied for his pension. Upon hearing about the application to double-dip, one good-government activist simply asked how the Bushwick Democrat could live with himself.
We ask a better question: For how much longer will Bushwick voters live with Lopez?