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Pension’s Perks for Members With a Past

Even when they’re on Capitol Hill, some Members of Congress are still on the state dole.

According to a Roll Call sampling of recently released 2010 financial disclosure reports, at least two dozen Members receive annual pension payments, ranging from a few thousand dollars to nearly $68,000, from their days as state legislators, officials or judges.

Although Members are subject to limits on how much outside income they can earn — the cap was $26,550 in 2010 — pensions and other retirement programs, such as deferred income agreements, are exempt from those rules.

That allows lawmakers who had careers in state government before arriving on Capitol Hill to draw both a Congressional salary of $174,000 and their state pension. The National Conference of State Legislatures tallied 263 former state legislators among the 112th Congress as of December.

“As a practical matter, it’s terribly difficult to limit retirement payouts for current elected officials who’ve served at different levels of government as opposed to serving at different jobs in the same government,” National Taxpayers Union spokesman Pete Sepp said. “It’s not double-dipping in the strictest sense, and trying to put a cap on it would likely raise all kinds of legal questions.”

Among the dozens of Members who reported receiving a pension in 2010 for stints in their respective state legislatures are GOP Reps. Judy Biggert (Ill.) and Marsha Blackburn (Tenn.).

Biggert, who served in the Illinois General Assembly from 1993 to 1999, received about $16,000 last year, while Blackburn, who served in Tennessee’s state Senate from 1998 to 2002 received $4,000.

According to data collected in the Council of State Government’s “The Book of the States,” pension programs vary widely among state legislatures, from states with no retirement benefits to those where lawmakers must participate. As a result, making comparisons among programs is difficult. Other variables include whether state legislatures operate on a full- or part-year schedule, as well as changes to programs over the decades since many lawmakers moved on to Congress.

Biggert’s office noted the lawmaker, who began receiving her pension in 2001, receives the standard benefit for Illinois state lawmakers.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) received a $20,000 payment from Maryland for his 1966-1979 tenure in the Maryland state Senate.

Wisconsin Reps. Jim Sensenbrenner (R) and Tom Petri (R) reported legislative pensions from their state, totaling nearly $28,000 and $14,000, respectively, in 2010.

Sensenbrenner served in both chambers of the Wisconsin Legislature from 1969 to 1979, while Petri served in the state Senate from 1973 to 1979.

A spokeswoman for Rep. Doc Hastings (Wash.) said the Republican, who received about $2,400 in 2010, is paid a percentage of his salary from his eight-year tenure in the state House. “And that salary was really low,” spokeswoman Erin Daly said.

Hastings has received $11,845 since his first pension check arrived in 2006.

The disclosure report of Rep. Timothy Johnson (R-Ill.) shows he received $68,000 in 2010. Johnson served in the Illinois state House from 1976 to 2000.

Texas Reps. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D) and John Culberson (R) received legislative pensions from their home state of $35,000 and $27,000, respectively, in 2010. Johnson served in the Texas state House from 1972 to 1977 and the state Senate from 1987 to 1993, while Culberson served in the state House from 1986 to 2001.

Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Mich.), who served in the state House from 1983 to 1998, reported a $55,000 pension payment in 2010.

But other lawmakers, including Rep. Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.), receive pension payments for a combination of state legislative service and other posts.

Tonko served nearly 36 years in New York government until 2008, including posts in the state’s transportation agency, energy research and development authority, and the State Assembly. He received a pension payment of $65,000 in 2010, according to his financial disclosure report.

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), who began receiving his pension in 1997, received about $14,000 in payments in 2010. He spent a decade in the state Senate as well as serving as Connecticut’s attorney general from 1983 to 1989.

Rep. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), who served in the state House from 1981 to 1994 and as lieutenant governor from 1994 to 2002, received $45,000 from her state’s pension program in 2010.

Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) has been receiving a pension from the state government for more than 30 years. In 2010 that check was more than $14,800, a number that has steadily climbed since Akaka left his post in the governor’s office in 1976.

In addition, numerous Members list retirement annuities — a mix of defined pension programs or newer retirement savings accounts — from similar state service, although they are not yet old enough to trigger payments.

Members of Congress must file annual disclosure reports detailing their assets — such as bank accounts, rental properties, stock holdings and investment accounts — as well as their liabilities. The reports do not require Members to detail other holdings, however, such as personal residences or the amount of a spouse’s annual income.

Roll Call’s review of pension payments did not include all Members, some of whom have yet to file their annual reports.

Janie Lorber contributed to this report.

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