State lawmakers sweeten their own pensions

By Deborah Baker

SANTA FE — Just in time for Valentine’s Day, lawmakers sent the governor something to sweeten their pensions.
Tucked into a bill dealing with mileage rates for state workers is a provision that would change the formula for calculating the pensions of members of the Legislature.

The measure went to Gov. Bill Richardson after getting final approval from the Senate late Monday.

A similar provision also reached the governor’s desk last year as part of a bill related to earnings caps on government retirees who return to work. Richardson vetoed that bill.
Under current law, the pension formula is based on the per diem rate in effect on Dec. 31 of the year the lawmaker retires.

The per diem rate — the amount that legislators are paid daily during sessions and for meetings between sessions — is pegged to the Internal Revenue Service’s expense rate for Santa Fe. Typically, the rate is higher in the summer.

Last year, for example, the rate in effect on Dec. 31 was $144. But on July 1, it was $181.

Under the legislation, the formula would be based on the average of the three highest per diem rates on July 1 of each year the lawmaker served.

A lawmaker who retired last year after 20 years of service, for example, would have been eligible for an annual pension of $19,008, based on the per diem rate of $144 in effect then.