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Idaho Judges Defend Lavish Pensions

Debate over whether Idaho state judges should keep retirement benefits that are about twice as generous as those of other state workers, a situation that’s helped open a funding gap, has kept legislators and court officials at the negotiating table since January. Judges say robust packages for Idaho Supreme Court justices, appellate court and district court judges are essential because experienced lawyers with high-paying private practices would be less likely to consider switching to public service if they were offered less-lucrative benefits like those most other state employees get as part of the Public Retirement System of Idaho, or PERSI. But with the Judges Retirement Fund showing an unfunded liability of $14 million, or $1.3 million annually shy of covering payouts over 25 years, legislators say changes are a must/John Miller, AP. More here.

Question: Do you have a pension plan at your workplace?

Police pension group OKs hypnosis

A retired Spokane police officer will have his hypnosis weight-loss therapy paid for by city tax money.

Members of the Spokane Police Pension and Relief Board unanimously approved the unusual claim from board member Gary Gow at its meeting Thursday.

Gow, who retired from the Spokane Police Department in 1985 after 20 years of service, abstained from voting. He’s been a member of the pension board for 21 years.

Read the rest of my story here.

The story was posted on LawOfficer.com's Facebook page today. The comments are quite interesting.

Gov calls for pension, health care reforms

OLYMPIA — The state should cut off automatic increases to some state retirees and keep others from retiring then being rehired for their old jobs, Gov. Chris Gregoire said today.

It should also revamp health insurance programs to find savings from large purchase and reductions in unneeded services, she added.

Gregoire unveiled several proposals Monday afternoon that she said could spell big savings over the next two-year budget cycle and beyond. It’s part of a slow roll-out of her fiscal 2011-13 budget, which will continue Tuesday and wrap up with a full budget book Wednesday.

Among the proposals floated Monday were an end to automatic increases to most of the retirees on the state’s oldest pension systems, PERS 1 and TRS 1. The increases were passed by the Legislature in 1995 as protection against inflation, but with inflation low, Gregoire is calling for the state to go back to the old system of letting the Legislature vote on any adjustments it sees fit.

Police officer pension changes move to House floor

OLYMPIA — There are still many questions for the legislative session, but at least one certainty: passage of improvements in pensions and other benefits for law enforcement and firefighters.

Spurred by a series of murders of law enforcement officers in Western Washington, Gov. Chris Gregoire and members of both parties in both houses are ready to extend full pension benefits to police, sheriffs deputies, state troopers and firefignters killed in the line of duty even if they haven’t been on the job the currently required 10 years.

A bill to do  just that, HB 2519, as well as lift the penalty for a surviving spouse and to waive tuition and fees at any state college for that spouse or the children of the slain officer or fire fighter, sailed out of the House Ways and Means Committee this afternoon with no debate and no questions for the witnesses calling for its passage.

After emotional testimony from widows of slain officers, the chief of police of Lakewood, Wash., where four officers were murdered Nov. 29, other law enforcement officials and the state pension board, the committee voted 22-0 to send the bill to the floor with a “Do Pass” recommendation from both parties.

Roundup…

Stuff’s moving quickly, so here’s a quick overview of recent developments, etc:

-The polling came back Friday on a proposed third-of-a-cent sales tax hike, and the numbers prompted an on-again, off-again Saturday, with groups and lawmakers weighing whether to press ahead with a public vote on the plan.

“We weren’t sure (the numbers) were strong enough to go forward,” said Cassie Sauer, who’s part of a coalition of health groups (hospitals, nursing homes, a nurses union, SEIU). She wouldn’t give out numbers, although she said that the number of people supporting a tax increase was higher than those opposed. And the numbers were “through the roof” as far as public disapproval of cuts to pediatric health, hospitals, nursing, etc. But many people are clearly very worried about the economy, she said.

So is the health coalition still willing to back a campaign to win public support for the temporary tax increase, which would add $1.1 billion over three years? “We’re thinking about it,” said Sauer.

-The Washington Policy Center’s Jason Mercier has posted two video clips, less than three weeks apart, in which a) Rep. Eric Pettigrew is praising the House budget as a responsible document and b) he says that the budget will result in people dying.

-David Goldstein, at horsesass.org, reports that momentum for an income tax on high earners is faltering: “`Next year,’ income tax advocates are being told. `Maybe next year.’ Yeah. Right.”

Goldstein argues that if ever there was a moment of opportunity for such a plan, it’s now. Not next year, when most House lawmakers will be running for re-election. Writes Goldstein:

By “next year,” of course, the powers that be mean “some other year,” which really means “never.”

-The Homeowners’ Bill of Rights has apparently died, for the third year in a row.

-With Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown and Sen. Chris Marr standing in the House wings Friday, there was some high drama Friday night involving SB 5840, which was intended to ease some of the renewable-power rules for power companies, easing the cost to ratepayers. Environmentalists say the bill largely guts Initiative 937, which set those standards.

In a rare alliance, environmentalist House Democrats joined Republicans to pass an amendment that seems likely to kill the bill: declaring all hydropower renewable, which would largely render I-937 meaningless. From the Olympian’s Brad Shannon:

“We put a poison pill in it,” said Rep. Zack Hudgins, D-Tukwila, who voted for the amendment and then voted against the final bill.

TVW’s Niki Sullivan adds this: “It might be working: The Senate rejected the House’s amendments yesterday. It now heads to a conference committee.”

-The Seattle Times’ Jennifer Sullivan has an update on a proposal to privatize some child-welfare services. (The short form: it’s now a pilot project instead of the original sweeping reform.)

-Publicola’s Josh Feit has the blow-by-blow in the continuing tussle between education advocates over whether a bill redefining basic education. And here’s a long statement from House education chairwoman Rosemary McAuliffe, who calls the struggle over HB 2261 “one of the most difficult and bittersweet weeks in my time in our Legislature.”

-Lawmakers have agreed to defer $430 million in state pension payments.

-Lastly: lawmakers have, in fact, banned novelty lighters (those that could be mistaken for a toy or that have flashing lights) out of concern that they attract children who end up starting fires with them.