SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — A look at the New Mexico Legislature’s pension program.
Q: Who is eligible for a pension?
A: Legislators and lieutenant governors can receive pension benefits after they leave office at any age with 10 or more years of service. At age 65, they need five or more years of service to start receiving retirement benefits. Lawmakers can buy an additional five years of service credit, such as if they had served in the military before becoming a legislator. As of last year, 163 retirees and their survivors received pension benefits. The average annual pension was $8,042 a year. Retired lawmakers, like other public employee retirees, receive cost-of-living adjustments in their pension benefits. Those currently increase benefits 3 percent annually but will drop to 2 percent or 2.5 percent starting in July.
Q: How is the pension program financed?
A: Current lawmakers who choose to participate in the pension program must contribute $600 a year and taxpayers provide $2.4 million a year. The government’s pension contributions come from taxes on oil and natural gas royalties paid to out-of-state residents. Unlike most other public employee pensions in the state, the legislative plan is financially healthy and has about 92 percent of the funding needed to cover its long-term pension obligations.
Q: When did lawmakers create a pension plan for themselves?
A: The pension plan for current lawmakers was enacted in 2003, and provides greater benefits than a previous retirement program established in the 1960s. Based on current pension calculations, an eligible lawmaker who retired now could receive benefits of about $1,016 for each year they served in office — $10,164 for a 10-year veteran of the House or Senate. The previous plan provided for a retirement benefit of $250 for each year of service — $2,500 for someone serving 10 years — and lawmakers contributed $100 a year. When the improved pension program was approved, lawmakers covered by the older plan were allowed to qualify for better benefits by increasing their contributions.
Q: If legislators receive no salary, how can they get a pension?
A: The state Supreme Court upheld the legislative pension system in 1995, ruling that it doesn’t violate a constitutional restriction that legislators receive “no other compensation, perquisite or allowance” except for mileage and a daily expense payment when they are in session or attending committee meetings. The justices said the pension is “too remote and contingent to constitute compensation” because lawmakers qualify for benefits only if they serve a certain number of years in office and contribute to the plan.