January 4, 2010

Retired lawmakers could benefit from General Assembly raises

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By Len Lazarick
Len@MarylandReporter.com

About 250 retired legislators and their spouses, most over 70, are keenly interested in what the commission reviewing the legislature’s entire compensation package decides Tuesday morning.

Their pensions are directly tied to what lawmakers make now and in future years.

Maryland legislators are the second-highest paid part-time lawmakers in the country, but their salaries have been frozen at $43,500 per year since 2006. That also means that retired legislators and their beneficiaries have not gotten a raise.

As MarylandReporter.com reported on Dec. 15, the nine-member General Assembly Compensation Commission is leaning toward small increases in 2013 and 2014 tied to some economic indicator such as the cost-of-living index or state employee raises.

A legislator who survives five election campaigns can make two-thirds of the current salary, after logging 22 years and three months of service. That amounts to $33,000 per year or $2,750 per month. Legislators must put away 5 percent of their salaries to their pensions.

Under a plan passed in 2002, 175 retired lawmakers receive an average pension of $1,422 a month based on an average length of 14.6 years of service, according to data supplied by the commission. The average age of retirees is 71.5 years.

Participation in the legislature’s pension plan is “optional,” said Anne Gawthrop, one of the analysts staffing the commission, but only five or six of the 188 current legislators are not participating. They can join the plan at any time, and get credit for their years of service if they make up the earlier contributions, Gawthrop said. Some legislators join after they get married, using the pension program as a retirement benefit for their spouses.

Forty-eight beneficiaries with an average age of 82 receive average pensions of $717 per month.

Maryland has the 10th highest pension benefit in the country compared to other legislatures.

The commission members gave no indication that they were interested in changing the pension or any other benefits for legislators, although one proposed a life-insurance annuity rather than a pay increase.

After the commissioners make their recommendations, the legislature can either accept, reduce or reject them altogether, but they can’t increase the amounts. Any new salaries, pensions or benefits would take effect in 2011 after the next election.

The Governor’s Salary Commission has already proposed that his salary be raised $5,000 a year in 2013 and 2014, with the lieutenant governor, comptroller, attorney general and state treasurer getting similar 3.2 percent raises.