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Idaho candidates could see big pension perks if elected

UPDATED: Wed., May 23, 2018, 2:37 p.m.

BOISE, Idaho – Idaho’s top candidates will see big boosts to their state pension benefits if successful in their pursuit of statewide positions, up to an eightfold increase.

According to a review by the Associated Press, nearly all Democratic and GOP candidates seeking open statewide seats will see their pension payouts soar thanks to a special perk given to state lawmakers under Idaho law.

The practice – known as “pension spiking – allows part-time lawmakers to spike their benefits if they take a higher-paid full-time state position for 42 months during their careers. Idaho is one of the biggest employers in the state, but only lawmakers are afforded this perk.

Critics have advocated repealing the loophole for years, but supporters counter that it helps experienced individuals to stay in public service.

This means state Treasurer GOP nominee Julie Ellsworth, a former five-term state representative, could see her pension increase by more than 800 percent if she wins in the November general election – which is all but guaranteed as she is running unopposed.

Typically, Idaho lawmakers receive modest pension benefits under the Public Employee Retirement System of Idaho, or PERSI, because of their low salaries in the part-time position.

Ellsworth served 10 years in the Idaho House, which would have resulted in roughly $275 a month if she never sought a higher paying state job. The AP based this estimate on a formula provided by PERSI officials. However, state law would bump Ellsworth’s to nearly $2,500 a month if she serves just one four-year term as state treasurer.

The state treasurer salary is currently set at $107,356 a year. At the time Ellsworth was serving inside the Idaho Statehouse, the state lawmaker salary was $16,438 a year.

In comparison, if Ellsworth’s Republican opponent Tom Kealey had won the GOP primary earlier this month, his pension would be closer to $700 a month after one term of service because he had no prior legislative experience.

Ellsworth did not immediately return a request for comment.

Likewise, GOP nominee Janice McGeachin for Idaho’s open lieutenant governor seat also spent 10 years in the Statehouse but her pension would spike from $275 a month to $1,022 a month if successful in the general election. That’s because the number two statewide job pays just $44,000 a year.

Her Democratic opponent Kristin Collum has no prior legislative experience.

Similarly, GOP gubernatorial nominee Brad Little would see a 255 percent bump to his state pension if he wins against former Democratic state Rep. Paulette Jordan in the November election. Little has served 17 years as an elected official, split between nine years as lieutenant governor and seven years in the Idaho Senate. Currently, his state pension would be around $1,200 a month. If elected governor, it would bump up to $4,400 a month after one four-year term.

Meanwhile, Jordan’s pension would jump a little more modestly if elected in November by moving from $113 a month to $1,680 a month because she spent just four years in the Statehouse.


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