by Jay Root | Texas Tribune | January 9, 2013
State Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, says he’s found the perfect way for elected officials to practice what they’re preaching about the need for fiscal restraint: ban “double-dipping” by politicians.
The lucrative perk was thrust into the spotlight a year ago when Gov. Rick Perry disclosed during his presidential campaign that he was collecting both his $150,000-a-year salary and an annual pension of more than $90,000. State ethics forms don’t require the disclosure of pension income, but federal forms do, so the governor had to reveal it.
There’s no way to know how many others are double dipping. Any state representative, senator or nonjudicial state-elected official who meets the age and service requirements is entitled to some benefit under the law, at wildly varying amounts depending on the official’s highest average state salary and individual circumstances, according to the Employees Retirement System.
Now Turner has filed House Bill 413, which would undo the obscure loophole. Turner’s bill would not apply retroactively to Perry or any other lawmakers who might be doing the same thing, but Turner said that with all the talk about tight-fisted budgeting, it’s time to end the lavish pension benefit.
“Our state leaders frequently tout Texas as a national example for fiscal responsibility,” Turner said. “Just Tuesday, we were reminded by the governor that we must be mindful of how we spend taxpayer dollars. This legislation helps accomplish that goal by not allowing elected officials to get paid twice for one job.”
Turner said he was not aware of the unusual pension provision until Perry disclosed it late last year.
“I just couldn’t believe it, and I think most Texans can’t believe elected officials can collect a salary, retire and still stay on the job and collect a pension all at the same time,” Turner said.
Perry spokesman Josh Havens said Wednesday that Perry, first elected in 1984, was “simply accessing what he has earned” and continues to pay into the state retirement system.
As for Turner’s legislation, Havens said the governor “will review any bill that makes it through the legislative process and onto his desk.”
Perry has said previously he would be “foolish” not to take advantage of the provision that is reserved exclusively for state elected officials. The provision has been on the books at least since 1991, when former Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock, a Democrat, took advantage of it.