Court rejects Parente pension claim
Appeals court panel says former Milford rep not entitled to count travel per diem and expense stipend toward her pension
A state appeals court has rejected a bid by a former lawmaker who sought to increase the value of her pension by counting her monthly walking-around stipend and per diem payments. The appeals court said Thursday that expense payments don’t count as part of state employees’ regular compensation – even when those expense payments aren’t used toward actual expenses.
Former Milford representative Marie Parente sued the State Board of Retirement last December, arguing that her travel expenses should be counted as compensation, and therefore should be used in calculating her monthly pension payments. Parente equated travel expense payments with the housing stipend former UMass president William Bulger once received.
The state Supreme Judicial Court ruled in 2006 that Bulger’s housing allowance was part of his compensation package. That decision increased Bulger’s annual pension by roughly $29,000 per year.
Parente, who retired from the House in 2007, tried to count her per diem receipts, her $600 monthly expense stipend, and State House parking spot as part of her regular compensation.Lawmakers get free parking on Beacon Hill. They receive travel reimbursements, based on the distance between their district and Boston, for each day they travel to the State House. And, on top of that, they receive another $600 per month in expense stipends. One lawmaker previously told CommonWealth that the $600 monthly stipends are “just walking-around money,” since the Sergeant at Arms office covers in-building expenses like office supplies, and campaign funds pay for expenses occurred in the district.
Parente argued that monthly stipends, which total $7,200 per year, should be counted as part of her salary because there’s no requirement that lawmakers use the stipends for expenses, and they’re not required to justify the payments with expense receipts. The appeals court disagreed, noting that pension payments are calculated based on payments public employees receive for their service, not extra expenses. “While Parente was not required to turn in receipts or proof of expenses to receive the annual allowance,” the court wrote, “this does not mean there was no requirement that the allowance be used for the stated reasons… Simply because Parente did not have to prove that she had any expenses in order to receive the annual allowance does not then mean it was intended to be additional compensation for her services.” The court declined to count Parente’s parking spot and per diems as compensation for similar reasons.