Pensions add up for Schaefer

He'll collect $165,000 from city and state governments

January 22, 2007|By Greg Garland and Andrew A. Green | Greg Garland and Andrew A. Green,SUN REPORTERS

Nobody ever accused William Donald Schaefer of getting into public service for the money, but his five decades as a Baltimore city councilman, mayor, governor and comptroller have positioned him to receive more in pension benefits than he was earning on the job.

All told, Schaefer, 85, is due to collect a taxpayer-funded pension of $165,000 a year from city and state government, records show.

His pension is more than the governor's annual salary of $150,000, and it easily tops what two other Maryland political figures who have also exited the public stage - former U.S. Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes and Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. - will receive this year after decades of government service.

A government watchdog group that tracks pensions of members of Congress calculated that Sarbanes will draw a pension of $119,214. Curran said he was advised that his pension will be $54,800 a year.

Because Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. served only one term, his gubernatorial pension will be worth $50,000 a year, and he won't get it until he turns 55, six years from now, under state guidelines.

His eight years in Congress make him eligible for a pension for that, too, but it's worth $11,637 a year under the federal formula, and he won't get it until he's 62. He would have been eligible at age 60 for a pension from his years in the legislature - a benefit now worth $10,440 - but he decided at the time not to participate in the plan.

Pete Sepp, a spokesman for the National Taxpayers Union, a government watchdog group, said public employee pensions generally are much more generous than those found in the private sector.

"That's doubly true for elected officials," he said. "They often participate at a higher and more generous level than the rank-and-file employees they may be supervising."

Asked about Schaefer's pension, Sepp said: "For that many years of public service, he obviously has a large retirement benefit coming. But do his constituents get that kind of pension for putting 40 or 50 years into their jobs? Not likely."

State Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said Schaefer's sizable pension is warranted given his age and the important positions that he has held in state and city government over many years.

"He didn't get into public life for a pension," Miller said. "He would much rather stay in office and not receive any pension at all, but the voters chose otherwise. ... He's a very frugal person."

The $165,000 a year that Schaefer is due to receive in city and state pensions is not all of his retirement pay.

He retired as a colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve after 37 years, which entitles him to a military pension. Information about the amount that he receives as a military pension was not available. Schaefer, through a spokesman, declined to discuss his pensions.

By law, Schaefer was not able to collect his $75,000-a-year gubernatorial pension during the period that he drew a salary as Maryland comptroller, from 1998 until this year. He can resume drawing the gubernatorial pension effective today, when he leaves office.

Schaefer did continue to collect his city pension, now $75,410 a year, and his military pension while serving as state comptroller, according to city retirement system records and his spokesman.

Schaefer entered the city's retirement program in January 1987 after 32 years in city government as a council member and mayor, records show. His city pension is set by a formula for elected officials and, by statute, increases any time City Council members receive a pay raise.

Schaefer's eight years as state comptroller add about $15,000 a year to his pension money, according to the state's formula for calculating retirement benefits.

The pension Sarbanes is due to receive as a retiring U.S. senator is not regarded as a matter of public information.

Sepp, of the National Taxpayers Union, said federal authorities have maintained since 1989 that information about the individual pensions of retired members of Congress is not subject to public disclosure laws because releasing it "does not serve a compelling public interest."

Sepp's group uses the federal formula for retiring members of Congress to estimate their pensions. Based on Sarbanes' 36-year career in Congress, Sepps said, he would be entitled to the maximum pension allowed by law.

Assuming that Sarbanes chose the pension option typically selected by retiring members with spouses, he will draw a maximum pension that now stands at $119,214.

Efforts to reach Sarbanes to discuss his pension, through one of his former aides and an e-mail message, were not successful.

Curran said he was told by state retirement system officials that his pension will be $54,800 a year.

He said that was calculated based on his 20-year career in the General Assembly, four years as lieutenant governor, 24 years as attorney general and four years of military service.

greg.garland@baltsun.com

andrew.green@baltsun.com

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