According to a file leaked to The Indianapolis Star and verified by state officials, lawmakers have contributed $3.6 million to their pension accounts since 1992, when they put the finishing touches on the system. During that same time period, taxpayers contributed $14.2 million to the lawmakers' accounts. (You can go to IndyStar.com to search a database showing how much the state has contributed to each lawmaker's account.)
The pension plan is among a set of perks that drew widespread criticism in recent years. In response to the criticism, the legislature voted last year to do away with the 4-to-1 pension match come 2009.
But until now, few have known how much taxpayers had paid into legislative pension accounts over the years. And, importantly, an analysis of the new retirement program crafted by lawmakers shows it is nearly as generous and just as self-serving as the old one.
The Indianapolis area lawmakers make off the best under the system because they are allowed a daily per diem even though they commute to work while the legislature is in session. As a consequence, their per diem payments are taxed as salary, which ups their annual contributions from the state. Rep. Bill Crawford and Sen. Bev Gard top the list. The state has contributed more than $130,000 to their pensions since 1992, while they each contributed a little over $32,000. Crawford, who has one of those high paying, make work jobs Ivy Tech creates for state lawmakers, gave this out of touch response to Tully. "We deserve a pension," he told me.
"Because he takes time off during the legislative session from his other government job -- a $77,000-a-year gig at Ivy Tech Community College -- Crawford said, 'I lose more money than I make during the session. Our work is a 365-day-a-year job, so there has to be recognition of that.'" Well boo hoo.
The only good news is that lawmakers have done away with the generous handout starting in 2009. True to form, however, lawmakers more than doubled the base salary upon which state contributions are based, even though the state contribution has dropped to 9% from 20% of their annual salary. That amounts to a drop in the bucket savings for Indiana taxpayers. The plan also allows lawmakers to become immediately vested in the system.
Unfortunately, the system Indiana lawmakers have created for themselves is similar to the overly-generous congressional pension system and that of many other state legislatures. When I worked for the Illinois legislature, it seemed to be an annual tradition for lawmakers to tweak the pension system in some way to benefit at least one of its members, such as allowing them to convert time from another government pension system into their legislative retirement system, which paid much better benefits. I recall when Sen. Paul Simon (D-IL) was running for president, the amount he disclosed as earning annually from his state legislative retirement accounts was far more than he had ever earned annually while serving in the state legislature.
Kudos to Matt Tully for his column today. Let's see some more reporting like this.