By Joseph Spector and Sean Lahman, Gannett Albany Bureau
ALBANY - The number of state employees collecting both a salary and a pension dropped for the first time in three years, declining by 5 percent between 2011 and 2012, records show.
The issue of the so-called "double dippers" has been a vexing one for state government as it has balanced the push for early retirements with the need to provide government services.
But as the ranks of state government shrink, so too has the number of employees collecting a salary and a pension, records reviewed by Gannett's Albany Bureau from the state Comptroller's Office showed.
The number of state government employees who earned a salary and a pension in 2012 fell from about 2,800 to 2,650.
There was a slight increase in employees who collected more than $200,000 in salary and pension in 2012, growing from 57 to 63. The total cost to taxpayers for the double dippers was $183 million, down nearly $10 million from 2011.
State employees who earned a salary and a pension in 2012
Some state lawmakers have urged that abuses of the pension system need to be curbed. But some in the state Legislature are part of the problem: Twelve lawmakers collected a salary and pension in 2012, retiring from the same job that they are still in.
"Those who are gaming the system is what I really have a problem with," said Assemblyman Kieran Michael Lalor, R-Fishkill, Dutchess County. "And when it's people at the top, those setting policy, who are gaming the system, how can you blame those who are just taking part in the system?"
Pensions of retirees are suspended for those under age 65 who earn more than $30,000 a year in a public-sector job, according to state law. Workers can get what is known as a 211 waiver to exceed the $30,000 salary limit, authorized under Section 211 of the state Retirement and Social Security Law.
State employees who collected a salary and a pension in 2012 received an average of $67,000, the records showed. Most received salaries for part-time work and stayed under the $30,000 salary threshold.
State law allows elected officials who were in office before 1995 to collect their pensions at age 65, even if they stay in the same job.
In addition to the 12 who retired as of 2012, two additional lawmakers -- Hugh Farley, R-Schenectady, and Assemblyman Steve Englebright, D-Nassau County -- filed paperwork to collect their pensions and salaries starting last January.
The highest overall continued to be SUNY Albany president George Philip. He earned a $275,000 salary and a $261,000 pension from his years at the state's Teachers Retirement System. He retired from SUNY Albany earlier this year.
Stephen Madarasz, a spokesman for the Civil Service Employees Union, said the decrease in double dippers is probably due to fewer state employees. The number of state employees in agencies controlled by the governor's office has decline by nearly 19,000, or 14 percent since 2008, to about 119,000.
Madarasz said many of the double dippers are part-time employees or in jobs being filled temporarily by a retired worker -- which lowers the cost to government by not having to pay a salary and a pension to a new employee.
"It's not always a bad thing in terms of the fiscal impact for the taxpayers," Madarasz said.
But he said it's also a "mixed bag," because there can be political appointees who can collect salaries and pensions.
Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy, a former Rochester police officer and chief, earned about $221,000 last year because of his salary and police pension. Duffy has explained that he took his pension when he retired to run for mayor in 2005, and he no longer accrues additional pension credits.
The New York Post reported in March that State Police Superintendent Joseph D'Amico started to receive his $136,000 salary and $85,000 pension after he received a 211 waiver.
Madarasz said the union is battling the Cuomo administration to give raises to employees who work with the developmentally disabled and earn on average $40,000 a year.
"It's the hypocrisy that comes into play that turns the public off about this," he said.
Fifty-three percent of the double dippers worked in the same agency in 2012 from which they retired, a similar rate compared to 2011.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office said last year it was undertaking a review of the 211 waivers in order to limit them. Some of the agencies are out of the governor's control, such as the 447 double dippers in the SUNY system in 2012, the most of any agency.
The records, obtained through a Freedom of Information request, only reflect retirees in the state pension system, not other public pension systems, such as the ones for teachers or police officers. It also does not include municipal employees because the state doesn't process their payrolls.
The Comptroller's Office looked at those whose date of retirement was on or before December 31, 2012, and matched it against state payroll for those who were active on the same date.
Annually, the second-highest earner has been psychiatrist Venkata Satti, who retired in 2009 from the Elmira Psychiatric Center with a $173,650-a-year pension. Satti earned $215,861 in salary last year, mainly at the same facility, records show.
A message left at Satti's office was not immediately returned Friday.