SANTA FE (AP) - New Mexico legislators will have to contribute more into their pension plans under a bill passed Thursday by the House, but the proposal's sponsor says the Legislature needs to scale back its retirement benefits.
No other state offers a similar pension system for its legislators, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. That's because New Mexico lawmakers don't receive an annual salary and instead get a daily payment intended to offset their expenses. Typically, pension contributions and benefits for public employees are based on their salaries.
Under the New Mexico retirement plan, a legislator who's served 10 years could receive a pension of $10,098 a year, or $841.50 a month, if they retired this year, according to the Public Employees Retirement Association, which administers the plan. That same legislator would have paid in $5,000 into their pension plan over those 10 years based on current contribution rates.
"This needs to be fundamentally made less generous," Rep. Dennis Kintigh, a Roswell Republican, said in an interview after the House approved his proposal for increasing legislator contributions.
Lawmakers pay $500 a year into their pension plan and taxpayers provide $2.4 million — the equivalent of $21,429 for each of the 112 members of the House and Senate. The state's contributions come from taxes on oil and natural gas royalties to out-of-state residents.
The yearly contributions by lawmakers will go to $600 under the bill that passed the House on a 56-10 vote. The measure goes to the Senate for consideration.
The measure won't change the benefits that legislators can earn, but Kintigh said that should be done. He's sponsored another bill that would establish a minimum retirement age of 62 for lawmakers. However, that proposal was shelved by a House committee and Kintigh said it appeared dead for this session.
Currently, legislators can retire at any age and receive their pensions if they have served at least 10 years in office. They're also eligible for retirement benefits at age 65 with five or more years of legislative service.
Kintigh said his pension proposals face stiff opposition in the Legislature but he contends they're justified because lawmakers are considering revisions to the retirement plans of public employees. One proposal would establish a minimum retirement age of 55 for educators and limit cost-of-living increases for educational retirees.
"We should walk the talk," said Kintigh.
Rather than getting a salary, New Mexico lawmakers receive a daily expense reimbursement — currently $154 but it varies from year to year. That rate is one of the factors used to calculate legislative pension benefits. The daily payments have been as high as $181, and are pegged to an expense rate for Santa Fe that the federal government establishes for business travel.
Lawmakers will receive about $4,620 for the 30-day session that ends next week. Lawmakers also get the expense payments for official travel and when they attend committee meetings during the rest of the year when the Legislature isn't in session.