First, cut legislative pensions
As the Legislature wrangles with the financial problems of the state retirement system, lawmakers shouldn't forget about their own embarrassing pension situation. It's an example of too much, too soon.
Under current rules, legislators can make three times their current salaries in retirement pay. And they don't have to retire to get it.
It's a benefit not provided any other class of state employee and, of course, is one granted by lawmakers to themselves. In 2002, for example, they endorsed a plan that allows them to continue serving as legislators while receiving their retirement checks after 30 years in office.
Currently, lawmakers make $10,400 a year for their part-time jobs. Plus, they are allowed $12,000 for what is termed "in-district expenses," though it more accurately should be described as a backdoor pay supplement.
About 40 percent of the state Senate is taking state retirement rather than legislative pay. The top take is about $33,000.
Cumulatively it's not a great deal of money by budgetary standards -- legislative retirement being paid to current and former lawmakers amounts to $5.3 million a year. But the self-serving arrangement is a better deal than other state employees receive. And it will limit public confidence in the Legislature as long as it is persists.
Legislators will have to make hard decisions to ensure long-term solvency for the state employees' retirement system. Considering that its unfunded liability is $13 billion and climbing, there's no reasonable option.
To do so will require extending the period for full retirement benefits, limiting cost of living increases, probably increasing employee contributions and possibly restricting the age that retirees can begin collecting their checks.
But first things first. To have any credibility legislators should fix their own retirement system.
And those changes should first be applied to those legislators who are now getting inflated retirement pay.