With the state collecting nearly $31 billion in surplus revenue and citizens begging for tax relief, lawmakers in the Texas House overwhelmingly gave initial approval to a scheme to increase their pension payouts upon retirement.
However, the legislation still requires an additional vote before being sent to the Senate.
In the part-time Texas Legislature, lawmakers earn a relatively small salary of $7,200.
That’s not the only cash they receive, however.
In addition to the $600 a month each legislator receives, they are also entitled to $221 in per diem each day of the legislative session, regardless of whether or not they are present. They can also collect per diem every time they go to Austin for legislative business outside of the session. That adds up to more than $25,000 in additional per diem allowances.
It’s the pension, however, that is the ultimate prize for many lawmakers.
Based on the base 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 50 years old.
Simply put, the longer a lawmaker serves in office, the more of a district judge’s salary they get.
House Bill 438 by State Rep. Mike Schofield (R–Katy) would add automatic increases to that salary based on changes to the Consumer Price Index, in turn increasing the pension that lawmakers receive.
With little debate, the House voted to give initial approval to the legislation, with only six members voting against the proposal.
After the vote, six additional members registered their opposition in journal statements.
Tim Hardin, the president of Texans for Fiscal Responsibility, says the move is “tone deaf.”
“This vote simply shows who most lawmakers care about: themselves,” said Hardin. “Taxpayers should demand they are offered the same courtesy nearly every lawmaker afforded themselves and provided at least $20 billion in property tax relief to taxpayers. Taxpayers deserve better than what these self-serving lawmakers are producing this legislative session.”
Though the bill was slated to receive final approval on Wednesday, Schofield moved to delay the vote until Friday morning. Hardin says the delay shows pressure is building.
“Transparency matters. We will see if they change it with an amendment or leave it as is,” said Hardin.