More lawmakers to collect salary and pension

ALBANY -- Add three more state lawmakers to the ranks of those collecting a salary and a pension from their public job.

Assembly members Tom Abinanti of Westchester County and Dov Hikind of Brooklyn, as well as Sen. James Seward, R-Milford, Otsego County, put in their retirement papers last month to a collect a pension along with the legislative salaries after they were re-elected in November, records show.

State law allows elected officials who were in government service before 1995 to collect their pensions at age 65, even if they stay in the same job.

The three new so-called double dippers join a dozen state Assembly members and six senators who last year collected a pension and a salary from the same position. A few of them have since left the Legislature.

Abinanti defended the decision to collect his pension, saying he is 70 years old and wants the benefit to aid his wife and autistic son.

His pension, which is based on nearly 32 years of state and local service, will be about $40,000 a year.
"This is deferred compensation, and there comes a point in your life when you have to collect that deferred compensation," he said.

He earns $79,500 as a legislator, and this year will get an extra $12,500 as chairman of the Assembly Committee on Government Administration.

Abinanti also works part-time as an attorney, and he earned between $20,000 to $50,000 in outside income in 2015, records in July showed.

Seward, 65, who was treated for bladder cancer last year, could get as much as $75,000 a year in a pension, based on calculations from the state Comptroller's Office website.

He earns $104,500 as a senator: a $79,500 base salary and $25,000 stipend for a leadership position.

Seward said he chose to take the pension to ensure his wife would get the benefit if he passed away. He said he's healthy after the cancer bout, but the ordeal made him more cognizant of his retirement choices.

"This is an option that is available to me," he said. "I decided to exercise the option, quite frankly, to protect my wife."

The office didn't provide pension amounts for the new legislative enrollees. The Albany Bureau for the USA Today Network received the list of lawmakers who put in for their pensions last month by filing a Freedom of Information request.

Four lawmakers who either retired or left the Legislature last year also put in for their pensions effective Jan. 1, the records showed.

They included Sen. Michael Nozzolio, R-Fayette, Seneca County, whose pension could be as high as $63,000 a year based on preliminary estimates, and former Manhattan Sen. Adriano Espaillat, who was elected to Congress.

Last year, Nozzolio earned $101,500 as a legislator and between $150,000 to $250,000 from his "of counsel and senior advisor" position at the Monroe County-based Harris Beach law firm.

Nozzolio is remaining in his role at the law firm, the company said Friday.

All 213 state lawmakers receive a $79,500 a year salary, and many receive additional compensation for leadership posts. They also get $172 a day stipend for food and lodging when they are the Capitol.

An effort last year for the Legislature's first pay raise since 1999 fell apart.

Some lawmakers who already were receiving both a salary and pension include Assembly members Gary Pretlow of Mount Vernon; David Gantt of Rochester; and Clifford Crouch of central New York, as well as Sen. Bill Larkin of the Hudson Valley.

The ability of government workers in New York to collect a taxpayer-funded pension and continue to work has drawn criticism over the years, but efforts to change the law have failed.

In 2015, about 2,600 state employees collected a salary and pension, state records obtained by the Albany Bureau in August showed.

That's about the same number as in 2012.

In 2015, 56 state workers collected more than $200,000 in salary and pension combined last year.
Some lawmakers can retire and resurface in new government roles.

Former Sen. James Alesi, R-Perinton, Monroe County, left office in 2013, and now is paid $90,000 a year as a member of the state Unemployment Insurance Appeal Board.

He also collects a $35,000 a-year pension.


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