By Steve Miller
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting
U.S. Rep. Rich Nugent, R-Spring Hill, author of January’s Congress is Not a Career Act that would allow federal lawmakers to refuse their pension, is himself receiving a $70,232 annual pension from the state of Florida in addition to his $174,000 federal salary.
Nugent, 61, spent 26 years with the Hernando County Sheriff’s office, starting as a deputy and working up to his election as sheriff in 2000, where he stayed until being elected to Congress in 2010.
Nugent reported being paid $124,675 as sheriff in 2009 on his federal election disclosure form. He is part of a retirement group known as a Special Risk Class, which provides benefits packages to firefighters, law enforcement officers and others deemed to put their welfare at risk in their positions.
Nugent wanted to eschew his congressional pension when he hit the Beltway after his election and found he was prohibited by law from doing so, although he began collecting his Florida pension the first year he went to Congress, records show.
The congressman did not return calls. His office emailed a statement that explained Nugent’s stance on his pension situation and his bill:
The name of the bill isn’t the “Law Enforcement Isn’t a Career Act,” it’s the “Congress Isn’t a Career Act.” From our perspective, my career was in law enforcement, not Congress, and I didn’t think that I should be receiving retirement benefits that were any different from anybody else retiring from the Sheriff’s Office.”
Members of the House are vested after five years of service and are obligated to participate in the retirement system as of 2004. Those elected before September 2003 can refuse the plan, as Texas Republican/Libertarian Ron Paul famously did during his 36 years in Congress. Senators can still opt out.
Nugent is one of three members of the Florida delegation receiving benefits from Florida taxpayers for previous public employment in the state, as well as a congressional paycheck.
He does better than GOP colleague Bill Posey, who claims to have voted to reform the congressional pension system as he picks up his $14,487 a year from his 16 years in the Florida statehouse, first as a representative and then as a senator. His office did not respond to a query on the specifics of that vote to reform the pension system.
Frederica Wilson, though, outdraws them both as a result of two state pensions. In 2011, one paid her $11,498 and another $70,660.
Wilson, 70, earned pension benefits as a teacher, principal, school board member and state legislator before being elected in 2010, and continues to collect both in addition to her federal pay.