Government Spending

How State Legislators Bilk Taxpayers For Pensions


Note to all those serious folks who mock USA Today as a candy-colored throwaway: Al Neuharth's fever dream regularly produces some of the best reporting on fiscal malfeasance (and more).

To wit, today's top-o-the-page expose on how state legislators pump up their retirements in ways that should get them run out of statehouses on a rail.

It's difficult to summarize, so take a peek at some of these nuggets:

At age 55, South Carolina state Sen. David Thomas began collecting a pension for his legislative service without leaving office.

Most workers must retire from their jobs before getting retirement benefits. But Thomas used a one-sentence law that he and his colleagues passed in 2002 to let legislators receive a taxpayer-funded pension instead of a salary after serving for 30 years….

Texas…lawmakers there 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….

In some states, lawmakers add expenses, per diem allowances and stipends to their base salaries. That inflates the compensation that's used to calculate retirement benefits, which are typically a percentage of final pay. In other states, legislators have written a special definition of salary that applies only to their pensions. Additional tactics include:

•Basing pensions on salaries legislators are not paid or were paid in non-legislative jobs.

•Collecting state pensions while also collecting legislative paychecks.

•Retiring earlier — at a younger age or after fewer years — than other state workers, or with richer benefits.

Kentucky legislators add their annual allowance for stationery — up to $1,500 for senators and $750 for House members — plus another $15,000 to $17,000 a year in expense payments to the salary on which pensions are based. Mississippi legislators get two pensions that on average add up to 165% of their salary. Connecticut lawmakers can increase their pensions up to 50% by including mileage reimbursements that add as much as $15,500 a year to the salaries used to calculate their pensions.

Read the whole maddening account.

NEXT: Reason Morning Links: Four of the Fullerton Six to Remain on Paid Leave, First Republican Sponsors DOMA Repeal, Harry Reid Plays Shutdown Hardball (or Something)

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  1. I just read the article in USA Today, and I have to say: well done, USA Today!

    That birdcage liner just got a bit better than the other birdcage liner I have to deal with, to wit: The Houston Chronicle. Yes, when even the USA Today can be better than your paper, it’s time for you to close shop, HC.

    The HC is nothing more than a reprint shop for AP and liberal spin bulletin board, anyway.

    1. USA today is ALSO a lub-rahl rag

      1. Re: Double Asshole,

        You mean “birdcage liner,” right?

  2. They say this cat Taft is a bad mother–

    1. Shut yo’ mouth!

      1. But I’m talking ’bout Taft!

        1. We can dig it!

    2. He did have a world class stache.

      1. I suggest that we require all of the candidates to grow a mustache. The one that comes closest to Selleckian without going over gets to be president. Next best gets to be VP. Old school, man, old school.

        1. So no woman presidents? Perfect.

          1. Not at all. Chastity Bono could contend, for instance.

          2. Auric, if you think post-menopausal women can’t grow mustaches, you need to get out more.

        2. So that would disqualify Sam Elliot from being President? I am not sure I like the without going over part.

          1. We, sir, are Americans. We have standards.

            1. You leave the Elliot alone man.

              1. I like Sam, but Tom Selleck has set the standard.

          2. If you watch movie credits you often see unusual or obscure jobs. For the movie “Tombstone”, someone got a credit as “Mustache Wrangler”.

            True story.

            1. That’s a fine film.

        3. Oh no, I think we need to go way beyond the Selleck level.

          Personally, I think our next president should have a nice little Kaiser Wilhelm mustache thingy. And a monocle.

          1. That’s un-American and borders on treason. You take that back!

            1. Hey, I didn’t say that our next president should try and do anything to fix Social Security. That really would be treasonous, at least according to Bob Eubanks (Mitt Romney).

              1. It would be, unless Romney earned the right to do it with an amazing mustache. That’s how Stalin got away with slaughtering and oppressing everyone.

        4. Catholic girls, with their tiny little moustache…

  3. I still can’t fathom why we, in the Great Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, don’t make our legislature part timers. And – this part is crucial – compensate them as such.

    1. It’s inevitable in any system. At least in Democracy there is the chance to punish individuals who are grossly corrupt.

    2. I think NH does this. And they are among the lowest paid legislators around.

      1. There have been rumblings in PA. FIrst-time candidates, I believe, trying to curry favor with voters to get them elected to their full-time Harrisburg job.

    3. PA has always had a tradition of a powerful legislature to counteract the executive branch. It’s hard to change tradition.

    4. If you pay legislators shit salaries, then only the rich can afford to be legislators.

      If you pay legislators princely salaries, then you create a a permanent class of political fat cats.

      Lose – lose, dammit. Anyone got a better solution?

  4. Here in New Jersey, we have legislators who are collecting their salaries, a pension from a state job, a salary as a local Mayor, and legal fees for representing contractors seeking state work.

  5. And we’re supposed to trust these fuckers with every tiny aspect of our lives? Why? They’ve amply demonstrated that they are not worthy of such trust.

  6. And, of course, we should all pay higher taxes because there’s nothing in government that can possibly be cut, right?

  7. “It’s good to be the King.”

    1. Whatever it pays.

  8. The important thing is that by paying our legislators more, we attract better legislators into public service than we’d get otherwise?


    Not having to pay for legislator’ pensions–that’s reason #37 why personal autonomy is better than democracy.

  9. I’ve never understood why we pay pensions at all to legislators.

    Its not supposed to be a career. Its supposed to be a brief stint of public service.

    1. Absofuckinglutely right.

    2. Re: RC Dean,

      I’ve never understood why we pay pensions at all to legislators anybody.

      There – more to the core of the issue.

    3. I’m not making their case for them, but my understanding is that social security has a funny relationship with state employees–tied to the federal government’s ability to tax states.

      State employees can’t/don’t pay into social security, and the idea is that they need to be able to have some kind of income provided by their employer when they retire. Legislators, I believe, are treated like state employees that way.

      So, anyway, I think that’s the rationale for paying legislators a pension–they’re state employees, and many state employees don’t pay into social security. Some states have special agreements with the Social Security Administration, but I believe those benefits are paid out at a substantially reduced rate compared to other social security beneficiaries.

      Interesting notion, however, that in order to preserve some vestige of federalism, the federal government can’t tax state employee paychecks–and that gives impetus to the legislators’ ability to pad their own pensions…

      If it was straight out salary, everyone would be up in arms at all that money–but since they can’t access social security the same way as everyone else, that opens the door for this kind of abuse…

      If the existence of social security is an excuse for state legislators to pad their own pensions, then that’s reason #43 why personal autonomy is better than Social Security.

      1. That’s all fine, for employees.

        I just don’t see any good reasons for treating elected officials as if they have a career and need a pension.

  10. Great story out of Chicago this week about some union goon who gets $150K a year of public pension.

    For one (1) day on the state payroll.

    And he’s just one of dozens of union goons feeding at the public trough.

    Much whining about how the Illinois Constitution protects these pensions, and they can’t just be cancelled.

    No one seems to have realized (yet) that the Illinois Constitution can be amended.

    1. One day on the payroll? Wow. If the people of Illinois will stand for it, then they get what they deserve.

      1. Nope, they’ll get a bailout, or “stimulus funds”.

  11. Yep. In California the state Legislature voted unanimously in 1999 to give most state employees “3-50” pensions (i.e., annual pension payout = (3% of your salary)*(number of years of service), and retirement at 50). Good thing the state’s economy has only gotten better since 1999, or that’d be looking like a terrible decision.

    1. at leest califronia is spenindg to get out uf the recission

  12. Government pays to attract the “Best and Brightest,” no kidding?

  13. It’s strange how many people want “the government” to handle some issue, as if government were some sentient and benign creature that exists apart from the people in it. They know the political class is venal and self serving, yet they yearn to give them more power.

  14. Wow, even the Mafia isn’t that big of a racket in comparison. I’m all for the ballet over the bullet, but this sort of thing makes angry mobs with pitchforks suddenly look a lot more reasonable.

    1. Angry mobs wearing leotards and doing pirouettes? (/pedantic asshole)

      1. As long as they’re carry pitchforks while doing it, I’m good.

        Normally, I do spell better. That wasn’t even a typo.

        1. I also clearly can do typos. I don’t do windows, however.

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