State Sen. Don Balfour, R-Snellville stood trial and was found not guilty late last year on allegations that he swindled taxpayers by submitting erroneous state expense reports. Now this year, the entire General Assembly is up for re-election, and Balfour has three challengers, including two in the fast-approaching May 20 Republican primary.
Balfour recently sent out a campaign flier to voters talking about the trial, his acquittal and a judge ‘s ruling that he be reimbursed by the state for his $156,000 defense. The flier also says he rejected the chance to lawfully collect tens of thousands of dollars from the state, and hence, taxpayers.
"I am the only senator who turned down the state pension plan for part-time legislators," Balfour states in the flier.
He goes on to say "this saved taxpayers over $160,000 I could have claimed."
This is red meat for the scribes at PolitiFact Georgia. Fact check here we come.
We reached out to officials at the state Employee Retirement System.
They confirmed that they had supplied Balfour’s office with information that he was the only one of Georgia’s 56 senators who had declined membership in the Legislative Retirement System.
Georgia’s part-time lawmakers currently earn $17,341 a year and are eligible for a daily per diem of $173 to cover travel costs when they are on legislative business, which includes committee meetings and the 40-day annual General Assembly session.
They also are eligible to receive a lifetime benefit of $792 a month at age 62 if they have been making contributions to the legislative pension plan for at least 22 years, according to the ERS. That adds up to $9,504 a year, or about $160,000 after 16.8 years by ERS calculations.
Balfour, who was first elected to the state Senate in 1992, says in the flier that, on principle, he never signed up for the pension plan.
"Nobody in the private sector gets a guaranteed retirement plan for a part-time job and neither should a state legislator," he states.
Others under the Gold Dome clearly don’t share that philosophy.
Of 236 state legislators -- 56 senators and 180 House members -- 223 were active in the Legislative Retirement System as of June 30, 2013, said Jim Potvin, the ERS’ executive director. One other senator isn’t taking the pension, though that wasn’t discovered until Balfour’s office had been told he was the only one, ERS staff said.
As of June, 259 retired legislators and beneficiaries were collectively receiving $1.8 million a year, or about $587 month each, Potvin said.
Benefits are calculated based on a legislator’s age, years of service and a benefit formula factor, $36 a year.
It’s not all free money. Legislators contribute 3.75 percent of their monthly salary, and the state provides a 4.75 percent match, Potvin said.
Legislators are vested after eight years of service, he said.
Balfour, a Waffle House executive, has three challengers in this year’s elections. In his own party, he faces former Gwinnett County Commissioner Mike Beaudreau and former Lawrenceville City Councilman P.K. Martin. If he survives the primary, he’ll go up against Democrat Timothy Andrew Swiney, a real estate broker from Lawrenceville, in the November general election.
In summary: The state Employee Retirement System told Balfour’s office that he was the only one of Georgia’s 56 state senators who has refused a state pension. He repeated that statement in a flier that he sent out to constitutes. When we contacted ERS officials last week, they told us they had "since discovered there is another senator who is not a member of LRS."
Our ruling: Balfour’s campaign flier says he is the only senator who has not signed up for a legislative pension. He made the claim based on information his office had been given by the state Employee Retirement System.
We rate Balfour’s statement as True.