The Poster Child of Pension Excess
Want to know what’s wrong with North Carolina’s pension system? Look no further than the cushy retirement being enjoyed by a fellow named Charles Franklin.
Franklin is now pulling down an annual benefit of $211,373, “earning” him the distinction of being the highest-paid public pensioner in the state.
And just what was this guy before he packed it in? A longtime state Supreme Court Justice? President of the University of North Carolina system? Did he run the Department of Transportation brilliantly for 40 years, saving the state a bundle of money? No. Mr. Franklin ran a mental health program in northeastern North Carolina. And, by all accounts, he didn’t do a very good job of it at that.
Les Merritt, who was state auditor at the time, complained that Franklin’s agency wasn’t performing the functions it was supposed to be carrying out and that he was grossly overpaid. (He was making far more than those running bigger and more successful such entities in other regions.) By 2009, the agency had been shut down and Franklin was out of a job.
But it turns out that he had been doing a very good job of feathering his own nest. He had retired in 2005, then returned to the same job as a “contractor” but at the much higher salary of $319,000 a year. Thus, when he “retired” again, his pension had zoomed from $145,000 (which still seems a gracious plenty) to its present mind-boggling level, making him one of only two state retirees pulling down more than $200,000. (The other is a former provost of UNC-Chapel Hill.)
“We’ve got judges, we’ve got doctors, we’ve got people who were chancellors and a president of the university system, and they are making less than this fellow,” Senate Majority Leader Martin Nesbitt said last week. “There’s something wrong with that.”
There sure is. And it goes far beyond the outrageous case of this one poster child. The fact is that pension programs at all levels of government are in trouble and cannot possibly keep sustaining themselves forever at the present level of funding while constantly making even more unfulfillable commitments.
Gov. Bev Perdue and the General Assembly already have plenty on their plate, but there can be no more urgent problem to tackle than this one.
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