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Statehouse Beat: Good work if you can get it

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Last week's item about how House Speaker Rick Thompson will be able to bump his state pension up about 168 percent, to $34,200 a year, if he stays in his new appointment as secretary of the Departments of Veterans' Assistance for three years, prompted a little game at the statehouse: Name all the former legislators who now have state jobs.I came up with 11, although two are contract employees in the governor's office:Bob Tabb, deputy Agriculture commissioner ($78,000), Jefferson County delegate 2003-09.Keith Burdette Commerce secretary ($95,000), Wood County delegate 1979-83, senator 1983-1995, former Senate president.Ed Bowman, governor's office regional representative ($40,900), Hancock County senator 1995-2011, former Government Organization chairman.Virginia Mahan, Health and Human Resources deputy secretary ($48,000), Summers County delegate 1997-2013.Rick Staton, Military Affairs and Public Safety deputy secretary ($90,000), Wyoming County delegate 1989-2007, former majority leader.Jon Amores, Racing Commission executive director ($83,500), Kanawha County delegate 1995-2007, former Judiciary chairman.Joe DeLong, Regional Jail Authority executive director ($79,000), Hancock County delegate 2001-09, former majority leader.Jack Roop, treasurer's office deputy treasurer for Local Government Services ($80,220), Raleigh County delegate 1983-1993.Billy Wayne Bailey, Veterans' Assistance deputy secretary ($65,300), Wyoming County senator 1991-2009. The contract employees, who work as legislative liaisons for the governor's office during legislative sessions, are Chuck Felton, Preston County senator 1987-93, and Martha Walker, Kanawha County senator 1993-2001 and former Health and Human Resources chairwoman.For the past session, Felton was paid $15,600; Walker, $11,700.Technically, I guess you could also count Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin ($150,000), Logan County delegate 1975-80, senator 1981-2011, former Finance chairman and Senate president; and Agriculture Commissioner Walt Helmick ($95,000), Pocahontas County delegate 1989, senator, 1989-2012, former Finance chairman.While they also will enjoy much-enhanced state pensions, at least they had to get the approval of voters to do so.
*As noted here before, the shorthand version to calculate a state pension is years of service times 2 percent times salary at retirement. (Actually, it's the average of the highest three of the final 10 years, which is why ex-legislators appointed to state jobs need to hold them for at least three years.)
For underpaid rank-and-file state employees, that formula is necessary to come up with a livable pension. Example, a 20-year state employee with a top salary of $25,000 would get $10,000 a year in retirement.However, the calculation goes haywire when you throw in high salaries or inordinately long years of service (employees with 35 years or more years are basically losing money by working, since their pensions would be more than their take-home pay).By getting bonus pay as speaker and by turning in essentially a full-time schedule of duty days, Thompson bulked up his 2012 legislative base salary of $20,000 about as high as possible, to draw $62,200.Most legislators will make about $25,000 a year, counting per-diem pay for interim, extended and special sessions. Judging by the examples above, 12 years is a pretty long tenure for a legislator, which would work out to a state pension of $6,000 a year.
Add three years at a state job making $70,000, and voila, that $6,000 pension becomes $21,000 a year.*Meanwhile, until 1995, the Legislature did not hold interim meetings in the month immediately following the end of a regular session. (Perhaps not coincidentally, legislative per-diem pay doubled that year from $50 to $100.)Then, as now, during the April (or May, in years after gubernatorial elections) interims, only three of the three-dozen or so interim committees actually meet. Initially, however, the meetings were either scheduled all in one day, or one in the late afternoon and two the next morning.In the last couple of years, however, the three one-hour meetings have been spread out over three days, ostensibly to make it a little more profitable for those legislators (16 of 134) who serve on any of the three committees.Members get $150 per diem pay, except $300 a day for the speaker and president, and $200 a day for majority and minority leaders. Additionally, members may claim $131 a day for expenses, or $55 a day if they commute from home.Four members had meetings on all three days: Senate President Jeff Kessler, Senate Minority Leader Mike Hall, House Speaker Rick Thompson and House Finance Chairman Harry Keith White.Five had meetings on two of three days: Senate Finance Chairman Roman Prezioso, Senate Judiciary Chairman Corey Palumbo, Senate Majority Leader John Unger, House Minority Leader Tim Armstead and House Majority Leader Brent Boggs.Sens. Donna Boley, Robert Plymale, Delegates John Ellem, Patrick Lane, Mike Caputo, Daryl Cowles and Tim Miley each serve on one of the three committees.By spreading the meetings out over three days, the speaker and president can max out $1,293 in pay and expenses, rather than the $431 they'd be paid if the three meetings were held on the same day.Not bad for three hours' work.Reach Phil Kabler at or 304-348-1220. 
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