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Three LI state lawmakers join ranks of double-dippers

Assemb. David McDonough and Sens. Kemp Hannon and

Assemb. David McDonough and Sens. Kemp Hannon and Kenneth LaValle submitted papers allowing them to retire on Thursday, Dec. 31, 2014 and become eligible for a state pension, collecting retirement and full pay simultaneously. Credit: James Escher, Richard T. Slattery

ALBANY -- Sens. Kemp Hannon and Kenneth LaValle and Assemb. David McDonough are about to join the small group of state legislators who earn a retirement check without leaving their jobs.

The three Long Islanders were among 11 state legislators who recently submitted papers allowing them to retire on Thursday and become eligible for a state pension, according to the state comptroller's office. That doesn't mean they are leaving but, rather, will be able to double dip -- collect retirement and full pay simultaneously.

They are able to do so because of a quirk in state law.

State legislators elected before 1995 can retire from the 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.

Nearly 20 years ago, the double-dip loophole was limited substantially. Now, 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.

Hannon (R-Garden City), LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) and McDonough (R-Merrick) all were re-elected last month. They submitted retirement papers to the comptroller this month.

"I filed the retirement papers so I can protect my family, while I continue to serve," LaValle, 75, said in an email, adding: "This is something that I could have done many, many years ago."

Neither Hannon, 68, nor McDonough, 77, immediately returned calls for comment.

They will join eight other state lawmakers collecting pensions next year while remaining in their elected jobs. Long Islanders doing so are Assemb. Earlene Hooper (D-Hempstead), who began collecting retirement in 2011, and Assemb. Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), who retired last year.

LaValle and Hannon each earn about $92,000 in base salary and stipends for leading a legislative committee; McDonough makes $89,000.

Critics have noted that most people have to actually leave a job to collect retirement pay. Some said the loophole shows the need to move state lawmakers and employees away from state-guaranteed retirements, to pension systems such as 401(k)s.

"It underscores the need to remove all elected officials from the defined-benefit pension system," said E.J. McMahon of the Empire Center, an anti-tax think tank. "If they were in a defined-contribution system, like the vast majority of their constituents, this wouldn't be an issue."

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