News Column

Deval Patrick Can't Compell MBTA to Release Pension Data

April 12, 2013

Gov. Deval Patrick -- now pushing a $1.9 billion plan for transportation -- indicated he accepts that individual MBTA pension amounts are not a public record, even as the T's share of the total has skyrocketed and a MassDot board member is pushing for greater transparency.

The debate follows a Herald review that found taxpayers footing more and more of the bill for the secret pension fund.

Patrick initially indicated yesterday that the public should know how much T retirees are pulling down in public pensions.

"Sure," Patrick said from inside a State House elevator.

Later in the day, the governor elaborated in a statement to the Herald, saying: "Sure, public agencies should make information available to the public. ... According to the SJC (Supreme Judicial Court), the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority Retirement Board is a private firm, not a public agency, and so the commonwealth has no authority to compel them to make personal information public."

Other State House leaders also took a pass yesterday. House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo's spokesman issued a statement saying only that the transparency proposal "will be analyzed ... and considered." Senate President Therese Murray and state Treasurer Steve Grossman declined to comment.

But MassDot board member Alan G. Macdonald said he was surprised to learn yesterday from the Herald that the MBTA Retirement Fund refuses to disclose its pension payroll data -- critical information that he said can enlighten the public as to how much it's on the hook for future pension liability.

"I think it's a matter of public awareness," Macdonald said. "I don't know why it should not be made public. From a fairness point of view, public information with public money goes hand in hand."

The MBTA Retirement Fund turned down a Herald request yesterday to release the information.

"In keeping with the privacy policy, we will not provide personal information about individual retirees and beneficiaries," said Steve Crawford, a spokesman for the MBTA Retirement Fund, who volunteered that the average pension payout is $27,200 per year.

The MBTA Retirement Fund's 2011 annual report -- its most recent -- shows the MBTA's contributions have risen 42 percent over five years, from $30 million in 2007 to $52.3 million in 2011, the Herald found. The MBTA receives its revenues from a combination of fares and public funds. The report showed the fund, which in 2011 paid out to 6,251 retirees and beneficiaries, had $1.39 billion in net assets, down $94 million from 2010.

MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo said the union contract agreement dictates the T's contribution rates, which fluctuate based on the number of retirees, the age of employees and plan's valued assets.

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(c)2013 the Boston Herald

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Source: Copyright Boston Herald (MA) 2013