Steven Englebright eligible for 'retirement' pension, pay

Assemb. Steven Englebright will soon join an elite

Assemb. Steven Englebright will soon join an elite group: sitting state legislators who collect retirement benefits while still in office. (Credit: Amy Onorato, 2012)

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ALBANY -- Assemb. Steven Englebright will soon join an elite group: sitting state legislators who collect retirement benefits while still in office.

Englebright (D-Setauket), 66, recently submitted papers with the state to allow him to effectively "retire" on Jan. 1 and become eligible for a state pension, according to Eric Sumberg, spokesman for the state comptroller's office.

At roughly the same time, Englebright will return to the State Capitol for his 22nd year in the Assembly after winning re-election in November.

As a result, he'll be collecting full pay ($91,000 in salary and stipends) and retirement (estimated between $50,000 to $60,000) simultaneously.

He's not alone: 12 other state lawmakers, including two from Long Island, will collect a pension in 2013 while remaining in their elected jobs.

Thanks to an exception in the law, state legislators elected before 1995 can retire from the state Assembly or Senate and start collecting a pension -- without actually retiring. To do so, a lawmaker typically resigns on or about the last day of his or her term of office -- around New Year's Eve -- and then returns after Jan. 1 as a newly elected legislator.

The double dip loophole was eventually limited. Lawmakers elected in 1995 or later can retire and collect a pension while still serving in office, but they can only collect a maximum of $30,000 in legislative pay.

Legislators elected before 1995 are not affected because the state constitution protects retirement benefits from being retroactively changed.

"The reality is, this is legal and appropriate," Englebright said Wednesday.

One government watchdog said the exception may come off as an unfair privilege.

"This is one of those perks that the veteran legislators still take advantage of," Russ Haven of the New York Public Interest Research Group, said in an email. "Anyone else who is lucky enough to have a pension has to retire first. Not if you're a long-standing Albany legislator: You retire and then 'un-retire.' It looks particularly awful given the times we live in."

Englebright noted that he's effectively capping the growth of his pension benefits by taking them now.

"Once I retire, I'll no longer be able to accumulate [retirement] benefits, which compound," Englebright said. "So as I looked at it, I've earned retirement benefits. I weighed it all and looked at what was lawful policy and decided not to accumulate more benefits."

Englebright, who began his professional career as a high school teacher, has 29 years in the state retirement system, according to comptroller's records. The assemblyman estimated the pension will provide him with $50,000 to $60,000 annually. On Long Island, two others also are receiving retirement and legislative checks. Assemb. Earlene Hooper (D-Hempstead) filed for retirement in December 2010 and Assemb. Harvey Weisenberg (D-Long Beach) filed in December 2008.

Sen. Owen Johnson (R-West Babylon) also has been receiving pension and regular pay for the last two years. But he is leaving office as of Dec. 31, after not running for re-election.

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