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Pensions for MLAs come under fire

Jul 13 2012

B.C.'s so-called "goldplated" pension plan for MLAs is again under fire after several politicians announced their retirements.

MLAs leaving the legislature will walk away with lucrative perks that cost taxpayers millions.

The latest retiree, Saanich North and the Islands MLA Murray Coell, is set to earn approximately $89,000 a year after serving 16 years in provincial office, according to the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

That pension will increase annually at the rate of inflation, costing taxpayers roughly $1.5 million during Coell's lifetime, the federation estimates.

"These pensions are too generous, especially for folks like Kevin Krueger, Murray Coell and Gordon Campbell, who all ran in 1996 for the B.C. Liberals on a platform of abolishing gold-plated pensions," said Jordan Bateman, B.C. director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

The government calculates MLA pensions based on years of service and top three years of earnings, meaning former cabinet ministers, such as Coell, get higher payouts.

Former premier Campbell receives roughly $98,175 a year, while Surrey MLA Dave Hayer, who announced his retirement last week after 12 years as a backbencher, should get around $47,600 a year, according to the federation's estimates.

Former solicitor general Kash Heed won't receive a pension because he'll retire with fewer than six years' service.

Pension totals do not include a severance package available to departing MLAs that provides their full base salary - $101,859 - for 15 months. They can also submit education and retraining expenses up to $9,000.

"It's ridiculously rich - who on Earth gets a 15-month severance package?" Bateman asked .

"To me, that's even more troubling than the pension.

The idea [that] you are having taxpayers top up salaries for 15 months to make sure these guys don't drop below six figures is pretty sickening."

Coell, 58, isn't eligible for his full pension until he turns 65, but can choose a reduced rate at age 60.

Coell acknowledged he signed a pledge to scrap the gold-plated pension plan in 1996 because, at the time, he considered it "too rich."

The then-NDP government cut the plan to a less costly version.

But in 2007, Liberal premier Campbell restored the more lucrative plan, while also bumping up MLA salaries 29 per cent, as recommended by an independent panel that said B.C. was lagging behind other provinces in compensating politicians.

At the time, Campbell defended the move, saying people in public office need to be compensated fairly for their contributions.

Coell said his government chose simply to follow the panel's recommendations.

MLAs were also allowed to buy back the years under the NDP's reduced plan, further costing taxpayers $21 million. Most did, including Coell.

As a former MLA in 2007, Premier Christy Clark wrote an opinion article in a Vancouver newspaper supporting higher pay and better pensions for politicians. Her office said Thursday she stands by her comments.

NDP leader Adrian Dix said recently there is little the government can do about the pensions now, and they will have to be paid out.

rshaw@timescolonist.com

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