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State Sen. Joan Huffman filed a bill Friday that would bar longtime lawmakers from increasing their annual take-home pay by $140,000 by dipping into their pensions before they retire.
Senate Bill 1509 would repeal a provision in state law, passed in the 2021 session, that allowed longtime lawmakers who had maxed out their annuities in the state’s Employees Retirement System to “double dip” by collecting their pension payments while still continuing to work and collecting a salary. Pension payments grow based on years of service and are typically capped at the state worker’s maximum salary, to be collected upon retirement. But state lawmakers, who make an annual salary of $7,200, have retirement benefits tied to the salaries of state district judges, who make $140,000 — meaning lawmakers who stay in office could have an opportunity to collect retirement payments that far exceed their state salaries.
Huffman’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The provision went into effect in September 2021 after lawmakers in the House quietly added it as an amendment last session to a crucial bill intended to address a $15 billion hole in the Employees Retirement System. Huffman got the bill back in the Senate in the final days of the session and was forced to pass it with the amendment but told reporters she would work to remove the provision in the following session.
The provision applies to all state employees who have worked enough years that they’ve maxed out their pension payments, but state lawmakers, unlike other employees who qualify for the benefit, work only part time. To max out their annuities, state employees typically have to work 43.5 years. That meant that only three lawmakers — state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, and state Reps. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, and Tom Craddick, R-Midland — qualified for the benefits outright. (Other lawmakers could be earning the benefit because the Employees Retirement System allows employees to buy or transfer credits for years of service.)
Whitmire, who is running for Houston mayor, said he had declined the benefit when it went into effect in 2021. Lawmakers had to opt in to pull their annuities while continuing to work. Thompson and Craddick have stayed silent on the issue.
Whitmire accused Craddick of instigating the law change even though the bill was filed by Rep. Greg Bonnen, R-Friendswood. Neither Craddick nor Bonnen addressed the accusation.
Huffman, a Houston Republican, is a major player in the Senate and leads the Senate Finance Committee, which handles financial and budgetary matters. It’s unclear whether Bonnen, who leads the equivalent committee in the House, will support the bill.