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Sunday, March 16, 2003

Lawmakers Lobby Gov. To Raise Benefits

By Loie Fecteau
Journal Politics Writer
    SANTA FE Gov. Bill Richardson was lobbied Saturday by a bipartisan group of about 20 legislators, who want him to support a Senate-passed plan to fatten the retirement benefits of current and former lawmakers.
    Richardson said he remains skeptical about the legislative retirement plan. He said he wants to be sure state taxpayers would not pay for it.
    "I want the (state) taxpayers protected," Richardson said after he met privately for about an hour with legislators from both sides of the aisle.
    However, Richardson said he does "feel that the current legislative retirement is inadequate."
    "But I'm not going to rush precipitously to deal with an issue that I think requires a lot more analysis," Richardson said. "I want to have some actuarial analysis. I want comparisons with other states."
    Richardson said there was no offer of any horsetrading on other bills to get him to support the retirement plan.
    "No linkages (of bills) were discussed," the governor said.
    Under the plan (SB 620), a new formula would increase the annual retirement benefit of current legislators to $1,044, times the number of years of service. So, a legislator who served 20 years could receive $20,880 a year in retirement benefits. A legislator would have to contribute $500 a year for each year of service, up from $100 a year, to participate.
    Former legislators, who had retired after 20 years, could receive $10,000 a year under a separate formula. They would have to retroactively pay an additional $100 for each year of service to receive the increased benefit.
    Presently, legislators who have served 20 years are eligible to receive $5,000 a year in retirement benefits if they contribute $100 a year for each year of service.
    The retirement plan would cost $2 million to $3 million a year, supporters said. It would be paid for under a companion bill (committee substitute SB 621) by requiring companies that pay oil and gas royalties to out-of-state residents to withhold tax charges of 6.75 percent, much of which goes uncollected now.
    "No one in-state should have to pay a nickel," said Rep. Max Coll, D-Santa Fe, who was among the legislators to meet with Richardson. Coll chairs the House Appropriations and Finance Committee, where both bills were awaiting hearings.