/ Modified mar 25, 2022 3:20 p.m.

Arizona lawmakers may give some politicians an early retirement with full pension

Some members of the elected officials retirement plan could retire at age 55 after 10 years in office, instead of waiting until age 62.

360 cap dome pretty The dome atop the Arizona Capitol Museum at the State Capitol in Phoenix. January 2021.
AZPM Staff

Arizona lawmakers are proposing to let some politicians retire early with full pension benefits.

Members of the elected officials retirement plan can usually get a full retirement at age 62 after ten years of service.

But under Senate Bill 1002, legislators are considering moving up the retirement age to 55.

It would be a limited time offer, however.

Elected officials would have to decide by the end of June whether they want to accept and would have to retire by the end of September.

The plan covers legislators and statewide elected officials as well as county elected officials, like county supervisors. It also includes officials from some cities participating in the plan.

Judges on the state supreme court, court of appeals and superior courts are part of the plan, too

But members could only benefit if they have been in office since before January 1, 2012.

About 240 elected officials and judges would qualify for early retirement under this proposal, according to the Public Safety Personnel Retirement System, which manages the plan.

The proposal, sponsored by state Sen. Vince Leach, a Republican from Saddlebrooke, calls for taking $60 million from the state general fund and depositing it into the pension plan to cover the cost of the early retirements.

But it is not expected that everyone would take the offer and Leach told a committee in the House of Representatives earlier this week the funds could also be used to pay down the plan's unfunded liability.

Backers argue the measure would save the pension plan money in future years because it would encourage at least some elected officials to retire early rather than accrue additional benefits in the future and help close out the plan altogether. The Legislature has closed the plan to new members.

The Public Safety Personnel Retirement System says the measure could save the state $3.7 million a year if all eligible officials choose to retire by the end of September.

"When we closed the system a number of years ago, it was like torpedoing the Titanic," state Rep. John Kavanagh, a Republican from Fountain Hills, told the House Government and Elections Committee before it advanced the bill on Wednesday. "So, it is now a sinking ship and we are providing a few extra life boats to get some of the high-cost passengers off."

The bill has won bipartisan support so far but some lawmakers have questioned the timing of the bill, which arrives in the middle of an election season and follows a round of redistricting.

And the bill is written narrowly enough to provide time for Gov. Doug Ducey to appoint the replacements for retiring superior court judges before he leaves office after the coming election.

Leach did not respond to a voicemail message seeking comment.

But state Rep. Diego Rodriguez, a Democrat from Phoenix, said he would not vote for the bill at this point.

"No, given how difficult it is to get appropriations for any number of programs that would benefit a wider group of people — from mental health care to KidsCare — I would definitely vote no on this without more information about why it's needed and more explanation of why it is so narrowly written," he said.

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