Retirement incentives yield six-figure pensions

The retirement incentive program offered state employees last year may have cut payroll costs, but it put even more pressure on the strained pension system.

One hundred and ten state employees retired with pensions of at least $100,000 last year, boosting by one-third the number retirees with six-figure state pensions.

pension at a glance

They were led by 66-year-old University of Connecticut business professor who retired in July with an annual pension of $259,800, a record for a state employee.

"There are some eye-poppers," said Steve Jensen, a spokesman for the comptroller's office. "But six-figure pensions are not the norm."

The norm for the 4,660 Connecticut state employees who retired in 2009 was a median pension of $39,600, according to an analysis of pension records by The Mirror.

Overall, the median for the 42,000 retirees receiving a state pension is $24,996-some 30 percent higher than the national median public pension and nearly triple the median private sector pension.

The median public pension for retirees over age 55 was $19,200 in 2008, according to an October 2009 study by the Congressional Research Service, compared with a median of $8,400 median for private sector pensions.

About 3,800 of the 4,660 newest state retirees left under the terms of a retirement-incentive plan that offered them three years of additional employment credit, Jensen said.

The new top pensioner is John F. Veiga, a well-regarded University of Connecticut business professor who had been on the faculty at Storrs since 1972.

He was a Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor, an interim dean, and the head of the management department. He also held an endowed chair in business ethics.

Veiga declined Sunday to speculate how his pension would be seen by the public.

"I really don't know how they will react," he said. "It is what it is."

Comptroller Nancy S. Wyman said Veiga and many of the other employees who retired last year had been hired before the state reduced its retirement benefits.

For someone hired before July 2, 1984, the heart of their pension calculation is multiplying 2 percent times years of service times the retiree's final average salary.

The multiplier dropped to about 1.5 percent for newer hires, and the normal retirement age rose from 55 to 62.

Under all the plans, retirees get an annual cost of living increase of between 2.5 percent and 6 percent, depending on inflation.

With 37 years of service, Veiga's basic pension calculation was a benefit equal to 74 percent of his salary. Rell's retirement incentives gave employees credit for three additional years of service, bringing Veiga to 40 years and 80 percent.

His final average annual salary, a composite of three years, was $361,293.

After adjusting for other factors in the pension formula, including his choice of a plan that would pay his wife an annuity if she survives him, his final pension was calculated at $21,650 a month, or $259,800 a year.

Before Veiga's retirement, the top pension was the $250,957 paid annually to Jack N. Blechner, an obstetrician who retired from the University of Connecticut Health Center in 1997.

The only other state pension exceeding $200,000 goes to Eleanor Henken, a retired periodontist at the UConn Health Center.

Sal Luciano was unaware of Veiga's pension, but he could recite Blechner's pension from memory.

He sees the top pensioners as statistical outliers who have nothing to do with his membership of social workers, clerks and others. To him, the most representative number is the median: $24,996.

 

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