LANSING — Forty-nine retired state workers in Michigan are paid pensions of more than $100,000 a year, according to a report published as state leaders look at ways to change the pension system.
More than one-third of Michigan’s 244,356 state retirees receive less than $10,000 a year in pension income and roughly two-thirds receive less than $20,000, the Detroit News reported Monday.
The newspaper said the tally of the highest-paid retirees was obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests of public records. The larger pensions were achieved after many years in public service under a formula approved by the legislature.
Eight of the 10 largest state pensions are through the Michigan Public School Employee Retirement System, including $170,910 to Albert Lorenzo, former Macomb County Community College president, and $136,027 to John Washburn, former Forest Hills Public Schools superintendent.
The list published by the newspaper includes some retirees who are receiving state pensions after taking new public jobs.
The state spent about $925 million on retirement costs last year, about 2 percent of the state’s $45.7 billion budget, according to the Senate Fiscal Agency.
Questions have been raised about whether taxpayers can continue to honor commitments made years ago. Unfunded pension liabilities have grown to more than $22 billion. The state’s debt is growing at an increasing rate because investment earnings are down in the poor economy.
“The governor has been clear and consistent on the need for state and local governments to address unfunded future obligations and control legacy costs so our children and grandchildren aren’t burdened with huge debt,” said Sara Wurfel, a spokesman for Gov. Rick Snyder.
Some retirees contributed more to the pension system. For example, lawmakers who qualified for a defined benefit plan because they were elected before 1997 contributed up to 9 percent of their salaries. In 1997, the Legislative Retirement System went to a 401(k) plan.
“When you have a person making a pension of $175,000, that looks exorbitant — but if you add up the numbers, it’s not so much that the taxpayer is paying that, the pension [system] is,” said Don Wotruba, deputy director of the Michigan Association of School Boards.