Georgia lawmakers are eying proposals to increase the amount longstanding state legislators receive in retirement benefits once they leave office, potentially upping the monthly payout by hundreds of dollars.
Four retirement bills filed late in the 2021 legislative session call for increasing the formula for calculating lawmakers’ retirement benefits, tweaking the pension allowance for the Georgia House speaker and shifting business-court judges to a different payment tier.
Supporters who considered the bills Tuesday at a House Retirement Committee meeting said boosting retirement benefits would help lawmakers who devote large chunks of time to bill-wrangling while also holding down full-time jobs, as well as attract Georgians to run for office who might not otherwise be able to afford it.
“I think this is really just a starting point of maybe how we can adjust the retirement part of what we do to try to attract some more talent, some more people who are willing to take time out of their lives to serve,” said Rep. Dominic LaRiccia, R-Douglas.
The measures were introduced in March during the closing weeks of the annual legislative session shortly after lawmakers shot down a separate proposal to raise salaries across the board for General Assembly members by several thousand dollars per year.
Two of the new bills would increase the dollar amount lawmakers receive upon retirement from the current allotment of $36 per month multiplied by their number of years in office. Lawmakers must serve in the General Assembly for at least eight years to qualify for benefits that they can start receiving at age 62.
One measure, sponsored by Rep. Wes Cantrell, R-Woodstock, would increase the formula from $36 to $60 per month, times years of service. The bill is co-sponsored by Rep. Billy Mitchell, D-Stone Mountain, indicating it has some level of support among Democrats in the Republican-controlled House.
Cantrell said the proposed $60-multiplier was a high figure that could be revised lower when lawmakers take up his bill next year. He added the larger benefit should not hit taxpayers’ wallets since the legislative retirement plan is already overfunded.
Another bill sponsored by Rep. Tom Kirby, R-Loganville, would set the formula at either $50 or 38% of a lawmaker’s average monthly salary, whichever is the higher amount. Kirby’s bill also calls for increasing the lawmakers’ contribution to their pension fund from 7.5% to 9.5% of their monthly salary.
A third measure debated Tuesday and sponsored by Rep. Barry Fleming, R-Harlem, would set House speakers’ retirement allowances at 38% of their monthly salaries, so long as they have served at least two years in the chamber’s top post. It would affect benefits for current House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, and former Speakers Glenn Richardson and Terry Coleman.
A fourth bill sponsored by Rep. Rob Leverett, R-Elberton, would place judges in the statewide business court under the retirement plan for state appeals-court judges. It would apply to Judge Walt Davis, who is the only judge currently in the statewide business court system the legislature created in 2019.
Lawmakers did not vote on the bills Tuesday since the General Assembly is not currently in session. The four bills will have to wind through the legislative process once lawmakers reconvene for the 2022 session next January.