ALBANY - The number of state workers who earned a salary and a pension last year plummeted 31 percent, but there were still 48 people who raked in more than $200,000 from double dipping, state records show.
The number of so-called double dippers dropped from 2,636 in 2015 to 1,830 last year. The number peaked at 2,800 in 2013, the annual review of the data by the USA Today Network's Albany Bureau found.
There were also 24 state workers whose pension and pay each topped the $100,000 mark, according to the state Comptroller's Office records obtained under a Freedom of Information request.
Additionally, nearly 300 state workers had a combined salary and pension of $100,000 or more.
State officials said they have sought to curb the number of workers who get a salary and a pension — a practice that has drawn criticism from fiscal watchdogs.
And a ruling from the state's highest court in May upheld the New York court system's decision in 2013 to stop judges who are older than age 70 from double dipping.
"We start with the basic proposition that New York's public policy strongly disfavors the receipt of state pensions by persons also receiving state salaries," the Court of Appeals explained in its ruling.
In some cases, workers need to get a waiver to earn more than $30,000 a year in salary after they retire, but the number of so-called 211 waivers have dropped in recent years.
"Waivers are granted sparingly and only when needed," Morris Peters, a spokesman for the state Budget Division, said.
"Succession planning and careful workforce management are limiting the number of instances and helping agency budgets stay flat for yet another year.”
Five of the 10 top earners were state Supreme Court justices because state workers over age 65 can collect a salary and a pension without an income limit until age 70.
Those included Ontario County Judge William Kocher, whose salary last year was about $187,000 and his pension this year is set to be about $141,000, ranking him as the fourth highest in combined compensation in the state, the records showed. He is 68 and will have to retire at the end of 2018.
But, Kocher said that when he was re-elected last year, the state encouraged him to take the pension. State workers say they need to collect their pension after age 62 because it ensures their beneficiary will receive their pensions if they die.
Kocher, though, said there is a downside to taking the pension while he is still employed: He loses other benefits, particularly significant life insurance.
Public Employee Salaries
"If anybody just thinks that this is a win-win situation for those of us doing this, they are wrong," Kocher, who is also the supervising judge for the region, said. "Because we are forfeiting certain benefits by retiring."
For the second year in a row, Intezar Shah, a psychiatrist at Mid-Hudson Psychiatric Center in Orange County, earned the most: about $372,000, down slightly from 2015.
Shah declined comment Friday, but last year he said he stayed on the job after he retired because of a shortage of psychiatrists at the center.
The state's data included only employees in the state pension system who stayed in state service. It did not include those who collect a state pension and work in local government or get another public pension, such as ones for police and firefighters.
Returning to work
The records showed 97 retirees worked as civil service test administrators last year, mainly as hourly workers.
Four other agencies had more than 50 retirees working for them: led by 90 at the Homeland Security and Emergency Services Department, largely for part-time employees working on disaster cleanup; 89 at the University at Albany; 58 at the Court of Appeals, mainly as proctors; and 47 for the Comptroller's Office, largely in part-time positions.
State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said he has tried to keep a close eye on double dipping in state government, saying a law in 2011 allowed his office to work with the tax department to limit abuse.
"It has helped improve compliance because we are able to compare our list of retirees with the list of employees of New York state public employers for the previous calendar year," he said in a statement.
"We then follow up to recover the monies. It's a long process, but we continue to make improvements."
DiNapoli said his office has also been more proactive in informing retirees of the rules if they go back to state employment, warning them that if they exceed the $30,000-a-year income limit, their pensions will be suspended without a waiver from the state.
"Working with the Department of Taxation and Finance and being more proactive in reminding our members of the rules is clearly showing results," he said.
Double dipping extends to the state Legislature, where members elected before 1995 can "retire" before a new term begins and get both their $79,500 base salary and a pension.
Twelve members of the Assembly collected a salary and pension last year, including David Gantt, Peter Lawrence and Joseph Errigo of the Rochester area; Clifford Crouch of central New York; and Gary Pretlow of Mount Vernon.
Five senators last year also got both, including John Bonacic and William Larkin of the Hudson Valley.
The double dipping in the courts system has been an issue for years because judges older than 65 could get their pensions and salaries, and continue to collect both after age 70 if certified by the system's administrative board.
In 2013, Gov. Andrew Cuomo raised concerns about judges who double dip when the courts asked voters to increase judges' retirement age from 70 to 80.
After Cuomo's criticism, the court system quickly said it would end the practice for judges older than 70, and then voters later rejected the retirement-age increase in a referendum in 2013.
But three judges, including two from Westchester County, J. Emmett Murphy and Gerald Loehr, sued, saying they should be able work and collect a pension until 76 — as had been the courts' practice.
The case weaved its way to the state's highest court, and, in May, the Court of Appeals said the system had the right to stop pensions for judges age 70 or older.
"We have been on record as pleased with the Court of Appeals decision, as well as discouraging the practice where we can," said Lucian Chalfen, a spokesman for the state Office of Court Administration.
The Court of Appeals said the court system believed that "judges who simultaneously drew both a full judicial salary and a full pension (colloquially called "double-dipping") adversely affected both the public's impression of the court system and the court system's negotiations with the other branches over crucial budgetary and personnel matters."
The Court of Appeals ruled the system's administrative board could end double dipping because it "enjoys nearly unfettered discretion in determining whether to certify a retired justice" to continue to work and receive a pension.
Who collects a salary and pension in state government?
Check our database: rochester.nydatabases.com/database/pension-double-dippers
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