The supplemental budget that’s making its way to the Governor’s desk includes a small offering of vindication for retired Lynnfield police officer Hartley Boudreau.
Three years ago, Boudreau was on the receiving end of some Boston Herald vituperation that designated him the “poster boy” for an alleged public employee income scam the paper was busy flogging:
A retired Lynnfield cop, already collecting a pension check while pocketing thousands in detail pay, has now managed to score taxpayer-funded unemployment benefits — part of a pattern of public cash grabs that has municipal officials howling to the Patrick administration for reform.
To flesh out the story a bit, in 2012 Mr. Boudreau was 70 years old and receiving a pension of $36,000 a year for his 32-year career as a police officer. (It’s doubtful that he was receiving any significant amount of federal Social Security retirement income because state and municipal employees in Massachusetts do not pay into that system.) The town of Lynnfield had supplemented his income in recent years by employing him as a part time police officer, but those wages were subject to a statutory cap limiting a public employee’s post-retirement earnings. When Mr. Boudreau reached the cap (of $25,000 annually), the town ended his part-time employment. He then applied for and received some unemployment insurance benefits under a statute of some 58 years’ standing that expressly permitted him to do so. Based on his $25,000 salary, the benefits he received could not have exceeded $9,000 and might have been less. Mr. Boudreau was required to pay both federal and state income taxes on them.
(A pause here to note that when some people — Donald Trump — avail themselves of the benefits of the law by, for example, filing for bankruptcy when their investments go sour, they are praised and admired for their shrewdness. But when others do, not so much.)
The Herald put the Patrick administration back on its heels with this issue, to which the paper devoted more than 20 stories and editorials. The state’s unemployment insurance agency immediately rescinded Mr. Boudreau’s benefits and appointed a special commission to investigate whether, as the Herald was claiming, Mr. Boudreau was no more entitled “to an unemployment check than the Powerball winner who decides to ‘retire.’”
But as time passed and the Herald was probably beginning to conclude that it had extracted just about all the outrage against government workers that this particular vein was going to yield, the Patrick administration reinstated Mr. Boudreau’s unemployment benefits, concluding that the law intended him to be eligible. The special commission that the Governor had appointed also determined that policy behind that law had much to recommend it: the average public pension was a mere $28,000 annually, the number of former public employees across the state receiving both pension and unemployment benefits was probably not much higher than 100, municipalities choose whom to hire and they are free not to hire retirees if they want to avoid any risk of owing unemployment insurance, and federal law requires that states treat their public sector retirees the same as their private sector retirees, who are certainly eligible for unemployment benefits if they are laid off from post-retirement jobs.
So when the city of Boston recently sought permission to hire retired police officers for part-time work and the question of the possible future eligibility of these officers for unemployment benefits arose, Governor Baker signaled his assent to that notion and the Legislature responded by including a provision affirming the law as it stands.
SECTION 76. Notwithstanding any general or special law to the contrary, a retired police officer of a city or town who is appointed as a special police officer pursuant to special legislation shall be subject to chapter 151A of the General Laws.
So far, no comment from the Herald.