Correction: An earlier version of this story was in error. Pam Roach has not nearly maxed out her pension payment in the state Senate. Public Employees' Retirement System Plan 2 continues to offer longevity bonuses after 30 years of service.
Pam Roach, the longest serving member of the state Senate, gets a pension bonus every year she remains in the job. But her retirement plan’s growth is relatively limited because her best-earning years are far behind her.
Election to the Pierce County Council next month would change that.
That’s because the county job comes with a much higher salary. Roach, who makes $46,839 as a state senator, would be paid $107,602 on the County Council.
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That pay bump would boost her pension by at least $20,000 a year.
Like all members of the Public Employees’ Retirement System’s Plan 2, Roach is due to receive pension payments based partly on her five consecutive highest-paid years in government.
To date, the highest-paid years in her 29-year work history were in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when she earned two part-time salaries working in the Senate and as an aide to former King County Councilman Kent Pullen. She averaged about $68,000 a year between the two jobs between 1997-2002, according to the state Department of Retirement Services.
That pay history, plus her years in government, put Roach on pace to receive roughly $42,100 a year if she retired in January 2019, when her Senate term ends. That number could be higher if legislators receive raises over the next few years.
Election to the County Council would hike that annual pension to $62,996 after a full four-year term, or more if the council members receive raises.
Roach, 68, says the pension benefit didn’t influence her decision to run.
“You know, you look at those things (pension possibilities), and it did occur to me, that’s right,” Roach said. “But you’re looking at it only from a money perspective and how sad is that?”
In a scenario she has ruled out, Roach could grow her pension even more if she stayed in the Senate after joining the County Council. Holding both offices at the same time would boost her pension to at least $75,000 and possibly more than $117,000, depending on how long she stayed in both jobs.
Roach didn’t rule out holding both jobs when she announced her council candidacy. But she now insists she won’t hold onto her Senate job, and said she’s backing a ballot measure in Pierce County that would ban county elected officials from holding most other elected offices.
“I have removed the issue,” Roach said. “It’s not an issue anymore.”
Even at $62,996, Roach’s pension wouldn’t come close to the top of the list for general government retirees. Former Gov. Chris Gregoire claimed that spot when she retired in 2013 with a pension of $159,608, the most of any retiree from state general government.
Gregoire was part of the now-canceled Plan 1 of the Public Employees’ Retirement System and held more lucrative jobs such as governor and state attorney general.
If Roach loses the council election and remains in the Senate until the end of her term, her $42,000 pension at that point would put her slightly below average compared with other government employees who have 30 years of service or more, according to figures provided by the Department of Retirement Services.
Election to the County Council would bump her ahead of those peers. The average pension payout for workers with 30 or more years who retired in 2013-14, the most recent numbers available, was around $44,000.
Roach’s opponent in the council race, Democrat Carolyn Edmonds, was a one-term King County councilwoman after being a state legislator for three years. She’s had considerably higher salaries during her comparably brief time in office — Edmonds made $110,194 on the King County Council in 2005 — but her seven years in the pension system give her a much smaller payment.
Edmonds also is part of the newer Plan 3 of PERS, which is a hybrid plan that combines a smaller defined-benefit pension with a 401(k)-like account. The pension portion would pay Edmonds $10,000 a year if she was elected to the Pierce council and served one term. The investment account portion of her retirement pay is exempt from public disclosure.
Since Roach hasn’t retired yet, her pension is dependent on a number of variables. She could choose to take a lower pension while allowing a survivor to receive a portion of her pension after she dies, for example.
Roach says it is her experience, not money, that motivated her to run.
“I’ve watched government in all its good forms and not-so-good forms at a county level and a state level,” she said. “ I think I would do very well at a county level again.”