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Editorial: Limit age for pensions

New Mexico’s youngest state senator is challenging some of his colleagues to give up an attractive perk.

Sen. Jacob Candelaria, 26, a Democrat who represents the West Mesa, wants retiring state lawmakers to forgo taking state pensions until they reach an “appropriate” age instead of being able to do so starting at 36. Even though public employees, including teachers, must meet certain requirements for age and/or years served, the only pension eligibility requirement for legislators is to get elected and re-elected for a total of 10 years to be able to start collecting at least $10,000 a year for life.

Retired legislators’ contributions are a pittance compared with what state and local public employees pay into the pension system and compared with what taxpayers kick in. The public pays $43 for every $1 a lawmaker contributes compared with $1.12 for every $1 a state employee pays in.

True, the argument can be made that as citizen legislators, they don’t get salaries (they do get $154 per diem to attend sessions and interim committee meetings). But an argument also can be made that they know that when they decide to run. As election cycle after election cycle rolls around, there seems to be no shortage of people stepping up for a taste of public service life.

“At the end of the day, it erodes public trust when someone who’s 36 or 37 can collect money for the rest of their life. It’s too sweet a deal,” Candelaria said.

The young lawmaker intends to try to change that in the 2014 session. He can expect a lot of pushback from his colleagues. But Candelaria is to be credited for trying to right a system that as-is could reap him huge rewards. Instead he is setting an example his peers should embrace.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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