That Texas’ part-time legislators are eligible for a lucrative pension is a scandal in itself, made worse when one realizes even pleading guilty to a felony for their official actions doesn’t dent their lifetime payout. The dirty little secret in Austin is that crime does pay … for members of the Texas Legislature.
Yesterday, State Rep. Joe Driver (R-Garland) was sentenced to 5 years of deferred adjudication after being caught double-charging his campaign and Texas taxpayers for travel expenses. Justice served? Not really.
While Driver has said he will not seek reelection, he does plan to finish out his current term “serving” the same constituents he defrauded (he says he didn’t know it was wrong). In early 2010, Empower Texans, like many of his constituents, endorsed Driver based on his previous voting record before learning of his double dipping (Driver ran unopposed in his primary).
Despite his felony conviction and sentencing for “double dipping,” Driver will continue pocketing taxpayer dollars to the tune of nearly $60,000 a year. That’s some pension for a part-time job that pays just $600 a month—or $7,200 annually! That’s right. Despite being convicted of defrauding the taxpayers, Driver will receive a monthly taxpayer-funded pension… for the rest of his life!
The state’s generosity toward those who have betrayed the trust of those they have pledged to serve isn’t limited to Joe Driver, either. Texas taxpayers are also funding the retirement of disgraced former legislator Terri Hodge (D-Dallas) as well; she’s getting nearly $40,000 a year. Hodge, you might recall, plead guilty to lying on her tax forms about thousands of dollars in bribes she accepted from a real estate developer.
Surely, in all the bureaucratic red tape surrounding public pensions there must be a stipulation that nixes retirement payments to convicted felons… Nope. In fact that’s why State Reps. Van Taylor (R-Plano) and Eric Johnson (D-Dallas) filed legislation this past session that would have ended payouts to corrupt public officials. (Johnson replaced Hodge)
Rep. Johnson’s HB 246 (which carried a long list of bi-partisan co-authors) would have made any public official ineligible for their pension if they committed a felony involving bribery, embezzlement, theft of public money, extortion, or perjury while acting in their official capacity.
Johnson’s bill, was eventually attached as an amendment to a larger catch-all employee retirement bill authored by Sen. Bob Duncan (R-Lubbock). Despite the amendment’s apparent support in the House, it was mysteriously stripped out of the bill during Sen. Duncan’s conference committee.
The pension program for our part-time legislators should be abolished; please name any part-time job that grants full-time pensions after just 10 years of service!
At a bare minimum, legislators guilty of crimes committed in office should have their pensions stripped. Does the fact that such a commonsense reform died in a smokey back room in the Capitol say something about the guilty consciences of many serving in the Texas Legislature?