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Friday, March 21, 2003

Lawmakers' Retirement Bill Awaits Gov.

By Loie Fecteau
Journal Politics Writer
    SANTA FE A legislative retirement bill awaiting action by Gov. Bill Richardson would remove an earnings cap aimed at limiting retired state employees from returning to government jobs and "double-dipping."
    The bill to beef up the retirement benefits of present and former legislators makes lawmakers with two years of service eligible for health care under the Retiree Health Care Act. Legislators would have to pay 100 percent of a monthly premium and a monthly fee upon retirement to participate.
    Under the proposal, legislators would not be eligible for health-care coverage while still in office.
    Richardson said Thursday he was undecided whether to sign the plan to fatten the pensions of current and former legislators by tapping uncollected taxes on out-of-state residents who receive royalties from New Mexico oil and gas interests.
    "Legislators need a new retirement system," Richardson said. "This one strikes me as a little bit generous, but I'm willing to consider it."
    Meanwhile, Terry Slattery, executive director of the state Public Employees Retirement Association, said Thursday he has concerns about a portion of the bill (SB 620) unrelated to the legislative retirement plan.
    Slattery is concerned that a separate provision of the legislation would remove a $15,000-a-year earnings cap for retired public employees government workers as opposed to part-time, unsalaried legislators who return to government jobs. Presently, if retirees return to work and exceed the earnings cap, their retirement benefits are suspended.
    "It could lead to a cost to the (PERA) fund," Slattery said. "It would seem logical that if people can get both (pension and pay), they will."
    Slattery said the true financial impact of removing the earnings cap was unknown "because there's no study being done."
    If the cap were removed, it probably "would lead to a change in contributions" to the public employee retirement fund, Slattery said.
    A related House-passed bill (HB 111), which was awaiting action by the Senate, would raise the earnings cap from $15,000 a year to $25,000 a year for retired public employees who return to government jobs. That bill would have no financial impact on the public retirement fund, Slattery said.