Texas legislators often talk about their extraordinarily low salary – just $600 per month. And though they also receive more than $25,000 in additional per diem allowances, their real hidden prize is the legislative pension.

Based on the salary of a state district judge – currently set at $140,000 – lawmakers are allowed to vest in a pension after eight years in office. A tenure of 12 years in office allows the lawmaker to begin receiving payments at the ripe old age of 50.

The longer the lawmaker serves in office, the more of a district judge’s salary they get.

The first step in reforming legislative pensions is to decouple the pension amount from district judge salaries. Lawmakers should not be allowed to increase their own pensions by hiding behind the need for a judicial pay raise.

Ultimately, however, legislative pensions should be abolished. The pensions create a perverse financial incentive that encourages legislators to stay in office longer than they (and more importantly, their constituents) would like.

With a lucrative retirement fund on the line, one can see why some legislators fight so hard to stay in office for ten or twenty years or more. This creates a conflict of interest, incentivizing lawmakers to find ways to bring in campaign contributions in order to win electoral victories that will ultimately feather the lawmaker’s retirement nest.

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