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Gov. Gets Bill On Pensions For Legislators

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Gov. Susana Martinez could act as early as next week on legislation to increase the required annual pension contributions for state lawmakers.

It’s hard to imagine she won’t sign it. The bill is more about symbolism than substance.

Under the measure, the annual pension contribution of each legislator would increase from $500 to $600.

The legislation wouldn’t affect what taxpayers pump into the plan — $2.4 million each year, or an average of $21,429 per legislator.

In the session of the Legislature that ended last week, the House voted 56-10 to approve the bill and the Senate 38-0.

The sponsor, Republican Rep. Dennis J. Kintigh of Roswell, has acknowledged the pension contribution increase would largely be symbolic.

Twice since 2009, the Legislature has hiked pension contributions for public employees because of budget troubles brought on by the recession. Part of those increases would be rolled back under a state budget approved by the Legislature and sent to Martinez.

“We’ve made demands of state employees over the years,” Kintigh told me last month. “Why shouldn’t we do the same thing to ourselves?”

It was the second time that Kintigh had introduced the bill. It died last year after an attempt by some lawmakers to use it as a vehicle to increase their pension benefits.

A related measure sponsored by Kintigh to set a minimum age of 62 for ex-lawmakers to qualify for their pensions never made it out of a House committee.

Currently, a former legislator can collect benefits at any age if he or she served 10 or more years in the Legislature. Ex-lawmakers with fewer years of service have to wait under age 65 for a pension.

The annual pension for a former legislator works out to about $1,000 for each year served, meaning an ex-lawmaker in the first year of retirement can recover about double what he or she contributed to the plan.

Defeated bills

The Legislature rejected several other bills dealing with lawmakers’ compensation and expenses. They included:

♦ A proposed constitutional amendment to prevent legislators who are public employees from collecting their public employee pay when the Legislature is in session.

♦ A proposed constitutional amendment to require legislators who are public employees to take annual leave or leave without pay when the Legislature is in session.

♦ A proposed constitutional amendment to create a commission that would set compensation for legislators each decade. Voters have previously rejected the idea of such a commission.

♦ A proposed constitutional amendment to provide up to $10,000 per year to each legislator for reimbursement of expenses related to constituent services and legislative duties outside of sessions of the Legislature and committee meetings. A companion bill would have repealed a provision of the Campaign Reporting Act that permits legislators to use political donations to pay expenses related to their official duties.

A correction

In last Saturday’s column, Scott W. Smart, vice president for business affairs at Eastern New Mexico University, was identified as a lobbyist for Associated Students of ENMU. The identification was based on information provided by the Secretary of State’s Office in Santa Fe.

Smart said the information was in error and that he is a lobbyist for the university, not the student group.

In addition to his work at ENMU, Smart is a member of the State Investment Council, which oversees management of billions of dollars in state permanent funds.

UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Thom Cole at tcole@abqjournal.com or 505-992-6280 in Santa Fe. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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