January 24, 2024

Texas House Members Did Not Vote to Raise Their Pensions

Texas House Members Did Not Vote to Raise Their Pensions

In the ongoing Texas Republican civil war, groups seeking to unseat Texas House members who voted for Paxton’s impeachment, have been sending mailers and running ads alleging that the House members voted to raise their pensions in the last session. The allegation is, at best, a gross misrepresentation.

Ironically, the subject of the ads is a bill that never passed. Early in the session, a bi-partisan bill (HB438) was introduced which would have indexed judges’ salaries to the Consumer Price Index.

As the bill moved through the House, an issue was raised about whether this indexing would raise legislators’ pensions because retired Texas legislators receive a pension that is based on what a district judge is paid. The argument by some was, therefore, that by raising judicial salaries, the legislators were indirectly voting to raise their own pensions.

When the issue was raised, the sponsors of the bill requested an opinion from the Texas Employee Retirement System, as to whether the bill would affect legislative retirements and were told that because the provisions were in different sections, the indexing would not affect their pensions. This is a clip from the House debate on HB438, in which Rep. Mike Schofield assured the members they are not voting to increase their pensions. By the way, Schofield is a Republican conservative stalwart who worked for Rick Perry for over a decade before being elected to the House.

Click on image to play video.

The final vote was taken on May 2, and the bill passed 134-10. Seventy Republicans voted for the bill.

However, by the time the bill got to the Senate, the Patrick-Phelan war had broken out and the Senate never took up the bill. I spoke to the State Sen. Joan Huffman, who is the Legislature’s resident expert on pensions, to get her take on the bill. She said that while there might have be some ambiguity about the language, it was clear to her that no one in the House intended to raise their pensions and that language to make that clear the bill did not affect legislative pensions would have been added before final passage.

So, no one’s pension was raised. There was never any possibility that legislative pensions would have be raised and there is no evidence any House member ever intended or attempted to do so. The Texas Voice came to the same conclusion in their fact checking.

Of course, that has not stopped Paxton’s defenders, primarily groups associated with Tim Dunn and the Wilkes brothers, from funding campaign mailers and ads falsely alleging that the targets of their ire voted to raise their pensions. In one flyer, paid for by the Texans for Fiscal Responsibility (TFR), a Dunn/Wilkes affiliated group, showing Rep. Mano Deyala with a fake picture of him with Nancy Pelosi on one side and a “WANTED” poster on the other side, implying that Deyala had committed a crime by allegedly voting to raise his pension, without bothering to mention that the bill did not pass.

TFR published this contorted word salad in which their “counsel” attempted to justify their allegation.  Ironically, TFR's explanation concedes that the provision was, at best, ambiguous as to its effect on legislative pensions, and that another bill passed by the Texas House the day before the final vote on HB438 had likely decoupled legislative pensions from judicial salaries.

The flyer also claimed that Deyala voted “with Democrats” to raise their pensions, conveniently leaving out that 70 other Republicans also voted for the bill.

One of the Republicans that voted for the bill was Rep. Nate Schatzline. But instead of TFR sending out smear mailers against Schatzline, its affiliated PAC donated over $48,000 to his campaign. The difference: Schatzline voted against the Paxton impeachment. What shameless hypocrisy.

Its seems that the gutter politics in the primaries get worse every election. Some of you may remember when I was forced to debunk the spurious allegation in an anonymous mailer that Alexandra Mealer had registered as a Democrat in another state. The trash that litters our mail boxes is particularly egregious. If you get a flyer in the mail bashing a candidate, the odds are that it is totally fabricated BS. These days, I just toss the “trash” in the trash without even reading it.

Such is the sorry state of our politics.

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