Guest Opinions

Time to do away with special retirement treatment for Idaho legislators

The Idaho State Capitol.
The Idaho State Capitol.

The Legislature enacted a law in 1985 regulating the way a part-time state employee who later went to a full-time position received state retirement, keeping the fund from losing large amounts of unfunded money, which had to be made up by taxpayers and Public Employee Retirement System of Idaho members.

In 1990, the Legislature unfortunately (and unconstitutionally) enacted a second law that exempted itself from the l985 law. This made it possible for a legislator who went from the Legislature to a full-time PERSI position to draw a much larger retirement, mostly unfunded and having to be made up as described above. This has led to the PERSI fund losing up to $30 million, largely unfunded.

As an example of the above, let us consider ex-Sen. Dean Cameron.

He left the Legislature in 2016 after 26 years of service to become the director of the state insurance commission, going from a legislative salary of around $17,000 to around $100,000 in his new job. Under the 1985 law, if he were to retire after five years, he would receive, in combined retirement, around $19,000 yearly. However, because the Legislature exempted itself from that law, his retirement would be around $65,000 a year, with the difference largely made up by other PERSI members and taxpayers. If he were to live out his expected life span, this would lead to over $1 million more, in largely unfunded money.

Rep. Steve Harris of Meridian introduced a bill in 2015 in the House doing away with the legislative exemption. The bill passed unanimously through the House Commerce and Human Resource Committee; after debate, it was passed by the House. It was brought back for reconsideration, and in the second debate again passed. It then went to the Senate State Affairs Committee, where the chairman unfortunately kept it from being considered.

In 2016, the legislative compensation committee that authorizes legislative compensation, in its biennial letter to the Legislature requested that the 2015 bill be revisited. The legislative leadership, during meetings prior to the 2017 session, informed a reporter that this portion of the letter was “dead on arrival.”

Harris again attempted to introduce his bill, but the chairman of the committee would not allow it. Later in the session, Sen. Marv Hagedorn introduced it in the Senate State Affairs Committee, but it was killed by a vote of 5 to 4.

Rep. Harris and Sen. Hagedorn plan on continuing their efforts in the current session. With all constitutional and other questions long since answered, one has to wonder why members of the Legislature, particularly the leadership, do not want the exemption done away with. We only hope that the effort to do away with this exemption, which is in the best interests of the people, is finally successful.

Jim Haddock is a retired mathematics instructor who lives in Meridian.