Last bill to pass the 2022 session: pension increase for Georgia lawmakers

Credit: Branden Camp

Credit: Branden Camp

As the last act of the 2022 session, the Georgia Senate gave final approval early Tuesday to legislation that would increase the pensions of part-time lawmakers 38% and quadruple what House Speaker David Ralston would receive.

The measure — which passed the House last month — would boost the formula for lawmakers’ pensions from $36 a month per year they serve in the General Assembly to $50.

House Bill 824 by Rep. Wes Cantrell, R-Woodstock, wouldn’t cost taxpayers anything right now because the legislative retirement system is overfunded and has been for years.

The biggest increase would come for the presiding officer — currently Ralston. A speaker would receive $250 a month per year he or she serves in that position.

In Ralston’s case, he served 13 years in the Legislature before becoming speaker in 2010. So he’d receive credit for 13 years based on the regular legislative pension and 13 as speaker, giving him a total package just short of $47,000 a year.

Under the current system, the Blue Ridge Republican would receive about $11,000 a year as a pension. Ralston is running for reelection unopposed this year.

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State pensions in Georgia have traditionally been seen as an incentive to attract teachers and state workers to jobs that don’t necessarily promise big salaries. Lawmakers, likewise, have been trying to find ways to make a part-time job that pays $17,342 a year — going up to $22,342 in the coming months — attractive to a wider group of Georgians.

Legislators have long said that the low pay makes it harder to attract people who can’t take three months off from their jobs every year to serve during legislative sessions.

Many legislators also say the job is no longer a part-time gig, and that higher pay and benefits could make it easier to attract good candidates to run for the General Assembly.

The speaker’s job is different — it is paid as if the person holding it is a full-time employee. Ralston is currently paid about $99,000 a year — $104,000 when pay raises that lawmakers have approved kick in.

Ralston is a lawyer when the General Assembly is not in session.

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Part of the reason lawmakers could look at raising their pensions is that the Legislature Retirement System — which provides benefits to retired legislators — currently has far more money in it than is required to pay current and future benefits. That’s in contrast to the much larger teacher and state employee pension systems, which are funded in the 70%-to-80% range.

Under House Bill 824, while the speaker’s pension would rise dramatically, he or she would also have to contribute four times as much money to the pension system as the average lawmaker. Rank-and-file lawmakers would also have to pay a slight increase into the system.

A typical lawmaker with 20 years in the General Assembly would be eligible for an annual pension of $12,000, rather than the current $8,640.

In fiscal 2021, the average pension for a teacher with 26 to 30 years of experience — similar to Ralston’s time in office — was $32,676, according to Georgia Teachers Retirement System figures.


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