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Former Pa. Gov. Corbett: From pension critic to collector

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Philip G. Pavely | Trib Total Media
Governor Tom Corbett speaks to supporters at the Airport Embassy Suites in Moon Monday, Nov. 3, 2014.

HARRISBURG — Former Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, a vocal advocate for pension reform, is collecting a $38,765 state pension, retirement system records show.

He withdrew a $118,378 lump-sum payment based on his contributions with 4 percent interest earned, records reflect.

Corbett’s pension is based on a final average salary of $186,204, an amount that reflects annual cost-of-living raises Corbett declined as salary. He kept his salary at $174,914 for four years.

Corbett took office in 2011 and was defeated in November by Democrat Tom Wolf, who has declined a state salary. With the governor’s pay set by statute, it’s unclear whether Wolf would get a pension.

Corbett declined raises, “but he will more than make up for it through a lifetime pension bounce,” said Eric Epstein, co-founder of Rock the Capital, a government watchdog group.

Corbett could not be reached.

“He’s living by the rules. He didn’t make them,” said Charlie Gerow, a Harrisburg political consultant who worked on Corbett’s campaign.

Senate Republicans have warned that taxpayers’ costs could soar $1 billion for public pensions next year. Wolf has proposed borrowing $3 billion to fund the pension systems and reducing fees that Pennsylvania’s funds pay on Wall Street. The state has separate funds for state workers and school employees.

Some lawmakers who have refused state pensions “should be lauded for leading by example,” said Nathan Benefield, policy analyst for the Commonwealth Foundation, a free-market policy group in Harrisburg.

“The problem is the system, which encourages political manipulation by increasing benefits and delaying payments,” Benefield said.

Corbett refused salary increases because of the state’s dire fiscal condition, said Kevin Harley, his former press secretary. Had he been successful in getting lawmakers to reform the public pension system, Harley said, Corbett was willing to convert his guaranteed pension to a 401(k)-type plan.

The Pennsylvania State Employees Retirement System provided the Tribune-Review records showing Corbett’s pension is based on 11.3 years of service — four years as governor, six years as elected attorney general and more than a year as appointed attorney general in 1995.

Corbett pushed for curbing benefits for hires for state jobs and school district positions. The Republican-controlled legislature did not act on Corbett’s plan. GOP Senate leaders now insist that pension reform must be part of any state budget solution with Wolf.

Corbett’s predecessor, Gov. Ed Rendell, in office from 2003 to 2011, receives an annual pension of $22,358 and withdrew a lump-sum payment of $96,420, according to records the retirement system provided Epstein, who sought them under the open records law.

Former Gov. Tom Ridge, a Republican who served from 1995 through January 2003, receives an annual state pension of $11,961 and withdrew a lump sum of $45,023, the records show.

Brad Bumsted is Trib Total Media’s state Capitol reporter. Reach him at 717-787-1405 or [email protected].

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