A bill to ban "double dipping" by state elected officials, a practice brought to light during Gov. Rick Perry’s failed run for president, has died in committee for lack of support, a top Republican lawmaker said Monday evening.
State Rep. Bill Callegari, R-Houston, chairman of the House Pensions Committee, said lawmakers on the panel did not consider the legislation a priority and wanted to focus on more important bills.
“We didn’t have enough support for it,” Callegari said. “There just wasn’t a lot of enthusiasm for it.”
In late 2011 Perry revealed on federal disclosure forms that he had taken advantage of an unusually generous perk reserved exclusively for longtime state elected officials. It has allowed him to draw both his $150,000 a year state salary and a $92,000 annual pension. The Democratic Lone Star Project, citing a national study of governors' salaries, said the combined income makes Perry the highest-paid governor in the country.
State Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, filed a bill at the beginning of the session to end the practice. House Bill 413 would not apply retroactively to Perry but would prevent future lawmakers or statewide elected officials from collecting a state salary and pension without ever leaving office.
State officials in the "elected class" who meet the age and service requirements of a state employee can begin collecting a pension, based on their highest salary over a 36-month period. Then they can retire again when they leave office in the "elected class," which for legislators is based on the salary of a state district judge, or $125,000. They don't have to disclose the pension income on state ethics disclosures, and the Employees Retirement System considers the information strictly confidential. (Perry was required to release his pension income by the Federal Election Commission).
Turner got a public hearing on the bill, but it effectively died Monday at midnight, the deadline for committees to pass House bills on to the full body for consideration.
Besides Callegari, the members of the committee include Reps. Roberto Alonzo, D-Dallas; Dan Branch, R-Dallas; John Frullo, R-Lubbock; Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio; Phil King, R-Weatherford; and Phil Stephenson, R-Wharton.
Turner said he is disappointed but won't give up. He’s looking for opportunities to attach the double-dipping ban as an amendment to other bills.
"Clearly a lot of people on both sides of the aisle agree this is a reform that needs to be made," Turner said. "Politicians shouldn’t be allowed to double dip a pension and a salary at the same time, while they’re still on the job.”