Rick Perry has done something his opponents have been hoping he’d do for years: retire. But it’s not what the governor’s detractors had in mind.
Perry officially retired in January so he could start collecting his lucrative pension benefits early, but he still gets to collect his salary — and has in turn dramatically boosted his take-home pay.
Perry makes a $150,000 annual gross salary as Texas governor. Now, thanks to his early retirement, Perry, 61, gets a monthly retirement annuity of $7,698 before taxes, or $6,588 net. That raises his gross annual salary to more than $240,000.
On a swing through Cherokee, Iowa, Perry was asked why the Employee Retirement System should be paying his retirement while he's still collecting a salary.
"That’s been in place for decades. ... I don’t find that to be out of the ordinary,” Perry said. "ERS called me and said, 'Listen, you're eligible to access your retirement now with your military time and your time and service, and I think you would be rather foolish to not access what you’ve earned.'”
Perry spokesman Ray Sullivan said the governor's early collection of his pension benefits is "consistent with Texas state law and Employee Retirement System rules."
But the disclosure is sure to spark criticism of Perry, who has called for sweeping changes to Social Security for average workers and has railed against special "perks" that members of Congress get.
"Perry was legally able to begin collecting the employee class annuity under the 'rule of 80.' The combination of his U.S. military service, state service and age exceeded 80 years and qualifies him for the annuity under Texas Government Code 813.503 as amended in 1991," Sullivan said. "Perry continues to pay into the Employees Retirement System with a 6.5 percent withholding from his state salary."
Perry will get credit for any subsequent years he works as Texas governor, so he'll receive a higher pension benefit if he serves out the remaining three years of his term as Texas governor, officials said. Perry is allowed to retire in two different systems — the "employee class" from which he is retired now, and the "elected class" system he will take retirement from when he leaves office.
"The annuity will be recalculated at retirement and the amount will depend on when he retires from the elected class," Sullivan said.
Perry also is eligible for Social Security benefits and lifetime, state-provided health care.
The early-retirement maneuver came to light Friday in new ethics disclosures from the Federal Election Commission, which requires all candidates running for federal office to provide details about how they make their money.
Perry’s presidential campaign had sought two successive delays of the personal financial disclosure filing but had to turn them in by 5 p.m. Thursday.
In his 2010 book Fed Up!, and out on the campaign trail, entitlement programs and government-mandated health care are among Perry's
“I do advocate totally rethinking the safety net, personal security programs completely,” Perry said in a November 2010 interview. “Why is the government collecting your tax money for retirement and health care programs? That’s not a stated constitutional role.”
In his most ambitious policy prescription so far as a presidential candidate, Perry proposed a partial privatization of Social Security for future retirees, changes that would not affect the federal benefits he will receive.