Jan. 25 --The pension plans for public school workers and most state and local government employees have unfunded liabilities in the billions of dollars. There is no need to worry, however, about the generous pension plan state legislators created for themselves. It's actually over-funded. As of June 30 , according to its annual actuarial valuation, the pension plan for lawmakers had assets valued at $28.9 million but liabilities of just $25.1 million . That means the plan was funded at 115 percent of liabilities. Lieutenant governors, who serve as president of the Senate , also are eligible to participate in the retirement program. There were 179 retirees or their survivors receiving benefits under the pension plan as of June 30 , according to the annual report. The average annual benefit was $8,814 . Last year, the Legislature passed and Gov. Susana Martinez signed legislation to shore up the pension plans for public school workers and most state and local public employees. The legislation included benefit reductions and increased contributions to the plans by both employees and their government employers, as well as tougher retirement eligibility requirements for new hires. The Legislature is still wrestling with reforms to the pension plans for state judges and magistrates, both of which are funded at less than 60 percent of liabilities. Under the pension plan for lawmakers, each current legislator who is enrolled makes a yearly contribution of $600 . The state pumps $2.4 million into the plan annually, or an average of about $21,400 for each lawmaker. The state contribution comes from a fund of various government fees and taxes. A former legislator who served 10 or more years can draw a pension at any age. A minimum of five years of service is needed to collect a benefit; a legislator who leaves before five years gets a refund of plan contributions, plus interest. An ex-lawmaker recovers all his contributions to the plan -- and more -- in just the first year of retirement. For at least the second time in three years, a bill has been introduced in the Legislature to impose a minimum age for a former lawmaker to collect a pension. Sen. Jacob Candelaria , D- Albuquerque , has proposed 55 as the minimum age, saying the public recognizes the retirement plan as "too good of a deal." The Legislature previously rejected a minimum age of 62. As of June 30 , according to the annual actuarial valuation for the pension plan, there were two retirees in the age range of 40-44 collecting an average annual benefit of $12,333 . There were four more ranging in age from 45 to 54 receiving an average of $12,686 a year. One argument against a minimum retirement age for legislators is it would encourage some of the dead wood at the Capitol to stick around longer. It's the flip side to the idea that increasing retirement benefits would get that wood out sooner. Because the session of the Legislature that began Tuesday is a short one (30 days), Candelaria needed the OK of the governor for legislative consideration of his bill to set a minimum age for retirement benefits. Martinez gave her approval Thursday, and it was no surprise, given her concerns about the pension plan. Last year, the governor vetoed a bill that would have allowed some current and former lawmakers who missed deadlines to enroll in the pension program to sign up retroactively. Some ex-legislators also would have been able to increase their retirement benefits. Martinez repeatedly has said the contributions to the pension plan by lawmakers are "woefully inadequate" when compared with the retirement benefits they generate. The governor also has questioned whether the pension plan is constitutional and called for a public vote on the plan in the form of a proposed amendment to the state Constitution. Under the Constitution, legislators receive a per diem, or daily, payment and mileage for attending sessions of the Legislature and meetings required by committees between sessions. The Constitution says lawmakers shall receive "no other compensation, perquisite or allowance," but the state Supreme Court ruled in 1995 that the pension plan was constitutional. Martinez said retirement benefits have since increased "in a manner that would appear inconsistent" with the court's decision. 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. ___ (c)2014 the Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque, N.M.) Visit the Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque, N.M.) at www.abqjournal.com Distributed by MCT Information Services
Most Popular Stories
- Obama Administration Releases Proposal to Regulate For-Profit Colleges
- Apple, HP, Intel May Take a Hit from Slowdown in Smartphone Sales Growth
- Elizabeth Vargas' Husband Marc Cohn Addresses Rumors
- FDIC Files Lawsuit on Behalf of Banks Allegedly Hurt by Libor Scandal
- Keurig Adds Peet's coffee, Alters Starbucks deal
- Motley Crue's Nikki Sixx Marries Model Courtney Bingham
- U.S. to Relinquish Gov't Control Over Internet
- Chinese e-Commerce Giant Alibaba Gears for IPO in U.S.
- Some California Cities Seeking Water Independence
- Will Missing Malaysian Jet Prompt Aviation System Change?