You can’t fault MBTA employees who decide to retire in their late 40s or early 50s and start taking their pensions when they hit the minimum number of years on the job. After all, the old pension rules included a “23 and out” provision that said T workers could retire with substantial pensions and free health care after 23 years on the job, regardless of age.
A rule change that applies to hires on or after Dec. 6, 2012, requires T employees to work 25 years and reach age 55 before they can qualify for retirement benefits. Nevertheless, as The Boston Globe reported this week, the average age of a new MBTA retiree in 2018 was 59 years old, and out of the nearly 200 employees who retired in 2018, about 60 of them were 54 or younger. Two dozen were in their 40s, including a 47-year-old woman who retired with a $63,406 annual pension, and one who retired at age 48 with a pension of just over $60,000, The Globe reported.
MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo told the newspaper that more than 1,200 of those receiving MBTA pensions began collecting before they hit age 50. An additional 500 current employees are eligible to retire because they have worked more than 23 years, he said.
It’s not news that pension obligations – coupled with the huge cost of delayed system maintenance and replacement of aging subway cars – contribute to the poor financial condition of the transit agency. The repair backlog tops $7 billion alone, and a quarter of the T’s annual budget goes toward paying down the debt.
The numbers show there are more MBTA pensioners than workers paying into the pension system. Taxpayers will continue to shoulder a major burden for decades as this essential public transit system tries to right itself.
A ballot question in 2013 to have an automatic gas tax, with a portion going to fund the MBTA, was defeated at the polls by about 53 percent of voters. Discussions about a “millionaires tax” now could bring some hope – if it was approved and helped fund public transportation. That’s a big “if” and may not be a solution at all. But serious measures are needed to give the MBTA a leg up and to take a little of the burden off the average taxpayers of Massachusetts.