HARRISBURG - When he retires on Tuesday, State Sen. Raphael Musto (D., Luzerne) is set to receive roughly $117,000 a year in pension benefits for serving just over 36 years in the General Assembly, almost 50 percent more than he made as a sitting member.

But because he is under indictment in the alleged acceptance of bribes, Musto would lose his hefty taxpayer-funded pension if convicted.

"This is the proverbial gold mine for politicians," Eric Epstein said of the pensions. He is founder of Rock the Capital, a government-reform group in Harrisburg.

The departure from office Tuesday - end-of-session retirement day - of several dozen lawmakers called attention again to the benefits they collect. Like Musto, other members with similarly lengthy careers in Harrisburg retire making more money than they did when they served.

That's thanks to a law enacted almost 10 years ago that hiked legislative pension checks by 50 percent. Most retirees also receive free health benefits for life and health coverage for their spouses.

"It's an extremely generous package that's not aligned with reality," Epstein said.

Legislation aimed at reining in exploding pension costs paid to government retirees was signed into law by Gov. Rendell on Wednesday. Among other things, it would reduce pension payouts by slightly lowering the percentage-based formula used to calculate benefits. Those sums are based on the average of lawmakers' three highest-paid years in office.

The new law takes effect Jan. 1 and applies only to newly elected legislators and government workers. It does not affect any of the 203 members currently serving in the legislature.

At least two lawmakers convicted in separate corruption probes in as many years have forfeited lucrative pensions: former State Sen. Vincent J. Fumo (D., Phila.) lost his $100,000-a-year pension, and former Rep. Mike Veon (D., Beaver) will not receive $50,000 a year in retirement pay.

Pension benefits might be at stake for several other legislators awaiting trial in the so-called Bonusgate investigation led by Attorney General - now Gov.-elect - Tom Corbett.

Reps. John M. Perzel (R., Phila.) and Bill DeWeese (D., Greene), as former leaders of their respective parties and former speakers of the House, were paid considerably more than rank-and-file lawmakers and spent decades in the legislature, making them eligible for sizable pensions.

Perzel, who this month lost the seat he had held for 30 years, would be out at least $100,000 a year if he is convicted. There were no figures immediately available for DeWeese, who was reelected but who cannot serve in a leadership post because of the charges against him.

Senate Democratic leader Robert J. Mellow (D., Lackawanna), who is under federal investigation, retires Tuesday after 40 years. He has the plushest pension of all: $300,000 in annual benefits, nearly three times his salary.

In Musto's case, if convicted, he would face up to 10 years in prison on charges related to his alleged acceptance of gifts and services from an unnamed contractor in exchange for help in obtaining government grants.

Bribery is among the crimes for which state pension benefits must be forfeited.

Musto is to be arraigned in Scranton on Wednesday.

Contact staff writer Amy Worden at 717-783-2584 or aworden@phillynews.com.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter Tracie Mauriello contributed to this article.