Local Politics

Bill Would Strip Felons of State Pensions

Posted February 15, 2007 4:58 p.m. EST
Updated February 16, 2007 7:31 a.m. EST

— Despite his conviction Thursday, former House Speaker Jim Black remains eligible for a hefty state pension.

A 22-year veteran of the state House, Black has earned enough time as a state employee to qualify for a monthly pension of $3,400.

Black isn't the only convicted politician collecting a government pension:

  • Former Congressman Frank Ballance, who is serving time after being convicted of mail fraud and money laundering, receives more than $1,400 a month.
  • Former state Rep. Michael Decker, whose party switch helped Black remain in the speaker's chair four years ago, is collecting $1,300 a month despite pleading guilty to an extortion conspiracy.

Some people want to change state law to prevent such payments.

”Anyone who does get convicted of a felony or abuse of office should not be able to collect state money from taxpayers,” said state Sen. Janet Cowell, D-Wake.

Senate Minority Leader Phil Berger is drafting legislation that would strip pensions from lawmakers who breach the public trust. He thinks it could have prevented Decker from switching parties for a $50,000 payment.

“If there was some thought that he would have lost his pension, maybe he would have thought twice and not engaged in the conduct he engaged in,” Berger said.

If the bill becomes law, it would apply only to future cases, so Black and the others wouldn't be affected by it.

Senate Majority Leader Tony Rand said he isn't sure if cutting off retirement benefits is the answer. He noted that Black provided many years of service to the state.

“Do you say one bad one is enough to wipe out 24?” said Rand, D-Cumberland.

Cowell said the issue is one of fairness that she expects will get bipartisan support. Similar legislation could become law at the national level, she said.

The U.S. House and Senate passed individual bills that would expand laws to deny pensions to lawmakers convicted of crimes. Congress is working on a compromise bill.