MAQUOKETA — Undecided Republican caucus-goer Mel Welter appreciates Rick Perry’s “Washington outsider” brand and wants the Texas governor to bring Lone Star State solutions for job growth and balanced budgets to the White House.
The farmer and seed business owner from Cascade also is pleased with Perry’s plan to turn Congress into a part-time body and slash lawmaker salaries, staff and benefits, in his bid for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.
But one part of Perry’s political career is “a little bit” troubling, Welter, 62, said on Tuesday from his seat in the packed audience of a midday meet-and-greet with the candidate at the Decker Hotel .
Perry has been double-dipping.
He is receiving a Texas pension of more than $92,000 per year, in addition to his almost $133,000 annual salary as governor. Perry, 61, qualified for the retirement benefits this year after serving five years in the U.S. Air Force, six in the Texas Legislature, eight as the state agriculture commissioner and one as lieutenant governor. He is serving his third term as governor.
“You ought to wait until you do actually fully retire, before collecting anything,” Welter said. “I guess I’d have to lean that way.”
Last week, the Federal Elections Commission released financial disclosure statements filed by Perry as a requirement for seeking the GOP nomination. The documents show he officially retired in January to begin collecting the pension benefits.
In a statement released to the media, Perry’s Campaign Communications Director Ray Sullivan pointed out that the governor’s more than 31 years of combined public and military service qualifies him for the pension.
He added that Perry continues to pay 6.5 percent of his salary into the state retirement system.
Perry took no questions from reporters during his 50-minute appearance and was not pressed on the issue during a question-and-answer session with the audience. About 120 Iowans and members of the press packed into the hotel lobby, where Perry spoke before a crackling fireplace. The standing-room-only crowd packed the edges of the room and wound up a staircase to the second floor.
“He has his right to his retirement,” said Tom Marcus, 63, a Realtor and farmer of Maquoketa, who has not yet decided who he will support at the Jan. 3 caucus. “The thing that I sometimes object to are local and state government employees retiring early, taking their pension, and then getting hired back at the same job. That does happen, and I think it’s wrong.”
Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, a Republican, collects a $130,000 salary as governor and a state pension worth more than $50,000 per year for his prior 26-year tenure as governor, lieutenant governor and state lawmaker.
Marcus asked Perry to explain how his flat tax plan, which offers taxpayers the option of filing under the current code or paying a 20-percent flat tax on their income, would benefit small businesses.
“It gives the confidence to the entrepreneur that they’re not going to be overtaxed,” Perry said.
Perry is on a 44-stop, 14-day bus tour of Iowa that is designed to boost him into the top tier of candidates for the Iowa caucuses.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal joined Perry on the trail Tuesday. Jindal saved Perry during a grilling on the ins and outs of his own tax plan by Oma Sagers, 82, of Maquoketa.
Jindal then jumped in to clarify that the standard $5,800 deduction for individuals actually increases to $12,500 under Perry’s flat tax plan.
“Thank you for correcting me on that, governor,” Perry said. “Not that I ever make a mistake …. It’s always good to have Bobby (Jindal) here to correct me.”
The audience chuckled.
He spent much of his visit railing against Congress and emphasizing how he would cut their terms from full time to part time, and reign in the power of lobbyists.
“It’s time for us to have a president who’s an outsider,” Perry said, in a final pitch for caucus votes.
Perry also visited DeWitt, Clinton and Davenport on Tuesday.
Hannah Hess covers politics and government for IowaPolitics.com, which is owned by the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity.