Two North Country lawmakers are defending their decision to take pension payments.
Earlier this week, the Plattsburgh Press Republican reported that Assemblywomen Teresa Sayward and Janet Duprey will retire from office effective Dec. 31 and then go back on the state payroll Jan. 1.
That allows them to collect pension from the State Retirement System while also receiving their pay as members of the state Assembly.
A spokesman for the New York State Comptroller's Office told the Press Republican that the retirement loophole was closed in 2005 - but politicians elected before 1995 can "retire at the end of a year and resume office on Jan. 1" if they are of retirement age.
"If they are an elected official, there is no protocol that prevents them receiving a full salary at the same time as a state pension," the spokesman told the newspaper.
Taxpayers are already crying foul over the so-called "double-dipping" - and officials with watchdog groups like the New York State Public Interest Research Group say constituents have the right to be angry.
But Teresa Sayward is defending her decision.
"It's incorrect in the newspaper to say our pension diminishes - it does not," she said. "What diminishes is our death benefit. After you reach 60-years-old, your death benefit keeps decreasing every single year. It was also incorrect to use the $75,000 figure - I've lost nearly $50,000 in my death benefit. If I die while I'm in office, my husband just gets the death benefit; he'll never get any of my retirement."
Sayward says she's worked more than 20 years for her retirement, both as an Assemblywoman and as supervisor for the Essex County town of Willsboro.
She notes that her pension won't be very large - less than $40,000 annually. She says she took her pension to protect her husband.
"We were dairy farmers," Sayward said. "All he has is social security and the little bit we were able to put aside."
Sayward says taxpayers may not realize how much personal money she puts into her job as a legislator.
Noting that she covers a large geographical district, Sayward says most of her gas money comes from her own pocket. She also maintains a residence in Glens Falls so she doesn't have to drive home to the North Country in between legislative sessions.
"It simply was a decision I made to protect my husband," she said. "And I think families make decisions like that as you start looking at how you're going to maintain for the rest of your lives when in fact I do decide that I want to get out of the business and have a few years left."
Assemblywoman Duprey notes that she could have retired from her post as a county treasurer 10 years ago.
Duprey says there's a four percent penalty on pension for every year a lawmaker serves over the age of 60. She too says she filed for the retirement loophole in the best interest of her family.
"Already, my pension is reduced 20 percent, and I looked at that and thought that's just not much money," she said. "By retiring - and I took a reduced retirement rate - he will receive a monthly income if I die first. I've been married 40 years and elected 35 years of them, my husband deserves something. He's worked very hard, he worked for the state for 22 years, his state retirement is less than $20,000 a year."
Sayward notes that accepting a pension and still working isn't uncommon.
"How many New York State Troopers retire and go back and work as a sheriff?" she asked. "When a trooper retires and goes back to work, their pension can still increase. Our pensions stop, the state ends its liability. We had a supervisor here in my hometown who was supervisor here before and he worked at the county, he retired and went back to work. It happens all the time."
She says whether it is right or wrong, the voters will let her know in two years.