in Houston, Texas
State lawmakers find clever ways to boost their pensions -- like the Texas trick of tying legislator pensions to judges’ salaries
Monday, Sep 26, 2011, 11:31AM CST
By Steve Miller
cash

The USA Today cover story on Friday regarding state legislator pensions is a heady journalistic stew of policy analysis, numbers crunching and dialing.

It exposed the hundreds of thousands of dollars taxpayers around the U.S. pay to their elected officials in their retirement and how those officials betray their trust by basing their pensions on things like expenses and stipends.

For our fair state, we get this:
Lawmakers (in Texas) haven't raised their pay since 1975. They convene every other year and get a $7,200 annual salary. But because of a law they passed in 1981, their pension is based on whatever the lawmakers decide to pay Texas trial judges.

Since 1981, Texas lawmakers have nearly tripled a judge's salary — and, by extension, their own pensions — raising the pay from $42,500 to $125,000.

Legislators also removed a sentence that limited their pensions to 60% of a judge's salary. Now, the pensions can equal 100% of a judge's salary.

The changes mean that state Rep. Tom Craddick, a Republican who took office in 1969, is guaranteed a $125,000 pension — more than 17 times his $7,200 salary. Another 58 state lawmakers are guaranteed pensions of more than $40,000, USA Today found.

"That's just the way the system is," says Craddick, who owns Craddick Properties, an investment business.
Just to make sure he was as blasé as his quote suggests, we left a message for Craddick at his Midland home Sunday night. As of press time, he had not returned the call.

The idea of lawmakers handing themselves big paydays in the post-Austin life is hardly a surprise.

In fact, as far back as 2002, the Texas lawmaker pension system was the envy of a legislator in Oklahoma, who was eager to milk taxpayers for extra retirement cash. He was no doubt really juiced when he heard about the 2005 legislation that allowed an increase in lawmaker pensions by boosting the pay of state judges.

Some federal lawmakers from Texas also collect state pensions, a sort of state-national double sip.

U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, a Republican, gets her state pension of $23,774 based on her service as a two-term legislator and state treasurer.
U.S. Rep. John Carter, also a Republican, receives a pension of $76,458 based on his 20 years as a state judge.

We asked earlier this year if state lawmaker pensions were on the line as dire projections of the state’s ability to pay up its retiree obligations were made.

The answer came back a big ‘no,’ according to an analysis of statehouse ills.

Pensions for these Austin elites are untouched while those of the rank-and-file are continually assailed.

And that’s because, we figure, “that’s just the way the system is.”
 
***
Contact Steve Miller at 832-303-9420 or stevemiller@texaswatchdog.org.

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