Virginia Senator Introduces Bill That Would Curb Pensions of Lawmakers Who Leave For Other State Jobs

Virginia State Capitol

In Virginia, long-time lawmakers can boost their pensions dramatically by stepping down from the House or Senate in favor of another state job.

A state senator has drafted a bill that would limit the pension boost received by lawmakers who use this tactic.

Details of the bill from the Roanoke Times:

Quitting the Virginia House or Senate for a state job can sharply boost a legislator’s retirement benefits, and state Sen. David Marsden would like to change that.

Marsden, D-Fairfax, has introduced a bill meant to make trading elective office for state employment less of a financial windfall. Legislators who step down in the middle of their terms to take state jobs would still see their pension benefits grow, but more slowly than they do now.

“I think it rubs people the wrong way that somebody gets appointed for political purposes and then hits this bonanza,” he said. “Your retirement should be rewarded, but not with such an amazing windfall.”

State senators and delegates earn about $18,000 a year in positions that are considered part-time, but which count as full time in the state retirement system. Legislators who serve 30 or more years are eligible for the state’s full pension benefit, which is about half their annual salary — about $9,000 a year.

That figure balloons if the legislator takes a high-paying state job, since pension benefits are based on an average of the employee’s last three years of service, or five years for employees who began after this past Jan. 1. A long-serving legislator who puts in three years in a $100,000-a-year job would then receive an annual pension of about $50,000 a year.

Under Marsden’s bill, the pension benefit would be based on an average of 10 years’ salary for anyone who sees a dramatic spike in salary — exceeding 400 percent — in the last four years of service.

The bill hasn’t come out of nowhere. The FBI is currently investigating a Virginia lawmaker who did exactly what the bill aims to prevent: quit his post mid-term in favor of a high-paying state job. From the Roanoke Times:

Marsden proposed the legislation at a time when the FBI is investigating a state senator who quit in June amid job talks, and as state lawmakers prepare to tighten the state’s ethics laws in response to the conviction in September of former Gov. Robert McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, on federal corruption charges.

Phillip Puckett, D-Russell County, abruptly resigned the evenly divided state Senate in June with plans to take a high-paying job with the Republican-controlled state tobacco commission. His exit handed control of the chamber to the GOP in the middle of a standoff over Medicaid expansion. Democrats cried foul, and the FBI launched an investigation. Puckett said there was no quid pro quo and, amid the uproar, withdrew his name from consideration for the tobacco commission post.

In 1997, then-Gov. James Gilmore III, a Republican, named a Democratic state senator from Loudoun County, Charles Waddell, his deputy transportation secretary, a move that gave the GOP control of the Senate. Gilmore also appointed a Democrat to head the Department of Conservation and Recreation, creating an opening for a Republican to win a seat in the House.

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe hasn’t taken a position on the bill.


Photo by Anderskev – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

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