BOISE – Legislation to end a special retirement perk for Idaho state lawmakers who take high-paying state jobs late in their careers had died without a hearing in a Senate committee.
“It’s not scheduled for a hearing,” said Senate State Affairs Chairman Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa. “There’s nothing that I see on the horizon that’s going to change that.”
Under the special perk, for the small number of lawmakers who make such career moves at the end of long legislative careers, the years of legislative services are counted as if they were all years of full-time work at the higher pay level, causing pensions to jump by many times. Former House Speaker Lawerence Denney, who was elected Secretary of State this year, will see his state pension soar by 600 percent as a result of the perk, if he serves a single, four-year term.
A nine-term career in the Legislature yields a state pension of about $500 a month. But that legislative service followed by a four-year term as a top state elected official yields a state pension of more than $3,600 per month, for life.
The bill, HB 100, passed the House on March 3 on a close, 38-32 vote. It would treat legislators’ service the same as other part-time elected officials in Idaho for purposes of state retirement pensions, including mayors and city councilors.
After it passed, members of House leadership requested reconsideration, but a second vote came out nearly the same as the first.
“I don’t think I would vote for it,” McKenzie said. “I think we are fundamentally different than a city council member or other part-time elected official, who also could have a regular job and still fulfill their elected duties.”
Idaho’s citizen Legislature is technically part-time – lawmakers work full-time for roughly three months a year, during the legislative session, and are paid $16,438 a year plus full benefits, including travel and meal expenses during the session, health insurance and retirement. Most take leaves from their regular jobs for the session; McKenzie is an attorney in private practice.
“As someone who still has to try and work during session, it is extremely difficult to have the ability to do so,” McKenzie said. He said lawmakers “treat this as a full-time job.”
McKenzie said he thought his panel had been sent the bill with the understanding that it wouldn’t get a hearing. But Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, said, “I didn’t send it with any instructions.” He said, “I stand behind my committee chairmen.”
Former House Tax Chairman Dennis Lake, R-Blackfoot, pushed legislation to remove the perk back in 2012, but Denney, then House speaker, unilaterally killed the bill. Since then, it’s continued to apply to other longtime lawmakers who’ve left for higher-paying state jobs, including new state Tax Commissioner Eliot Werk, who served seven terms in the Senate before Gov. Butch Otter named him to the Tax Commission this year.
HB 100 wouldn’t have applied to anyone who changed jobs prior to July 1, 2015; just to those longtime lawmakers who made the move after that date.
Lake, who made a visit to the Statehouse earlier this session to try to get the bill moving, said, “There’s nothing wrong with the bill – the bill is a good bill. There’s certain people in the Senate who don’t want it to be heard, because they know it’ll pass if it is heard.”
This year’s bill was co-sponsored by two House Republicans, Reps. Kelly Packer of McCammon and Steven Harris of Meridian.
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