More than 500 retired state and public school employees in Pennsylvania are collecting six-figure annual pensions, including one of the men jailed for his role in covering up the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal at Penn State University.
Gary Schultz, a former vice president at Penn State, was sentenced to two months in jail earlier this year after pleading guilty in March to a charge of child endangerment. Even so, he'll be collecting a $330,000 annual pension for the rest of his life. He is one of 20 former state employees getting more than $250,000 annually from a state pension system facing a $70 billion shortfall, according to an analysis of state pension data published this week by Maddie Hanna of The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Philly.com published the list of the 500 pensioners pulling down more than $100,000 annually, 124 of them former Penn State employees. Rodney Erickson, the school's former president, gets $477,000 a year, biggest pension in the state. Another 143 of the six-figure pension recipients worked at other public universities in the state.
Those big pension payouts are outliers, of course. The average retiree gets about $27,000 annually, according to the Inquirer review. Still, they are rightly being scrutinized as the state (like many others) tries to address a budget-busting pension crisis.
Pennsylvania's Republican-controlled state house and Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf came together earlier this year to pass a series of reforms that included some caps on big pensions and changes to how future employees will have their retirement benefits funded. Those modest reforms will help reduce long-term liabilities, but because they only affect new hires, it will take decades for the current debts to disappear.
Annual payments into that system will cost Pennsylvania taxpayers more than $4 billion this year. Those contributions will continue to grow annually through the early 2020s—accounting for as much as 10 percent of the state's whole budget by 2019, according to the Wall Street Journal—before leveling off and eventually declining over the course of several decades as current enrollees stop collecting benefits when they die.
Still, the big pension payouts in Pennsylvania pale in comparison to what some retirees in other states are getting. As I reported last month, more than 62,000 California retirees get pensions in excess of six figures, including a handful of pensioners who get a cool $1 million (or more) each year for doing nothing.
The comparison isn't apples-to-apples, though. Most local government workers in California are included in the state pension system, while Pennsylvania only puts state workers and employees at public schools and state universities in the state-run pension systems. There are another 2,500 local pension plans in Pennsylvania to cover the retirement costs of municipal workers (that's about a quarter of all municipal pension plans in the entire country), and many of those local retirement accounts are in even worse shape than the state-run plans are.
That means the Inky's data, while useful, is not a complete picture. There are surely many more public sector workers in Pennsylvania getting golden nest eggs partially funded by state taxpayers.