Updated: Friday, 01 Apr 2011, 12:16 PM EDT
Published : Thursday, 13 Nov 2008, 6:26 PM EST
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) - How would you like to take home a $13,000 monthly pension, tax-free? It's happening in Rhode Island, and you're paying for most of it.
The Target 12 Investigators have been digging through state and municipal pensions. They've come up with a list of the state's top pension pay-outs. You won't believe how much some retirees get in their monthly checks.
You might think judges top the list of biggest pensions. After all, many retired judges collect up to 100 percent of their generous salaries when they leave.
But after Target 12 ran the numbers, we found a group of retirees who blow the lid off the pension cookie jar. A quick click of the mouse and our pension database of the entire state and five other cities and towns reveals the list of top pension pay-outs.
At first glance, you'd think the state's top pensioner is former Supreme Court Justice Joseph Weisberger with a monthly pension payment of $15,495 a month. Think again.
Target 12 also requested what he pays in federal and state taxes: $5,700 a pay period, meaning just over $9,700 dollars a month goes into his wallet. Which means the new, undisputed pension champion is a retired Providence firefighter.
Former chief Gilbert McLaughlin catapults to the top with a tax-free accidental disability pension, bringing home an astounding $12,991 a month. Again, that is tax-free. We took our findings to Providence Mayor David Cicilline.
"Those are an affront to hardworking taxpayers of the city who could never dream of having a pension like that," the mayor said.
Before taxes, the top five pension pay-outs are to retired judges. But after Target 12 ran the numbers deducting taxes, the top five are all Providence firefighters out on a tax-free disability pension. Each collects between $10,000 and $13,000 a month.
"The pensions you're describing were awarded under an old system before I took office and those would never happen today," says Cicilline.
But we're paying for them. Our top retirees called it quits between 1990 and 1992, at a time when generous annual "cost-of-living increases" were handed out. In fact, thanks to compound interest, their annual pension take-home doubles about every 11 years. By our count, and confirmed by City Hall, there are 108 retired Providence firefighters or police officers collecting these generous pensions.
"Thirteen-thousand-dollars a month, tax-free - how is this OK?" Tim White asks.
"That's a lot of money," Paul Doughty, president of the Providence Firefighters' Union, responds.
Even Doughty is amazed by the figure. He points out, though, that our top five were high-salary department chiefs, not rank-and-file union members. But he agrees pensions were not meant for people to get rich.
"As a taxpayer, they should have looked at it better then," says Doughty.
And yet there's not much that can be done about it now.
Mayor David Cicilline says, "What are the legal rights we have as a city to take away a pension that was awarded to someone under and existing structure back then..."
"And what's the answer to that?" asks Tim White.
The mayor responds, "It's limited is the problem."
Cicilline worked to restructure the pension system, as did City Councilor John Igliozzi. But as a retirement board member, he says the way pensions are awarded still needs work.
"The Retirement Board still has a strong political influence per special interests today, and that's why we have to continue reforming the board, reforming the pension laws and making it a more honest and open system," says Igliozzi.
An important note: firefighters contribute to their pension plans, while most retired judges didn't have to. That has since changed; new judges now pay into the retirement system.