A former state legislator who previously defended a special pension perk for lawmakers will likely benefit from it.
Former state Rep. Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake, can greatly increase, or spike, his taxpayer-funded pension if he holds on to his new state job for at least 42 months.
A five-term House member who retired in 2014, Anderson was appointed by Gov. Butch Otter Tuesday to a high-paying job on Idaho Public Utilities Commission, a three-member panel, which regulates utilities that provide gas, water, electricity or telephone service for profit.
Otter stated in a press release, “Eric is known and widely respected for his strong leadership, knowledge and experience in many aspects of the energy field – from generation to transmission and from environmental protection to fighting the spread of disruptive invasive species.”
Anderson chaired the House Ways and Means Committee during his final legislative term.
In 2012, Anderson defended the perk during a House committee meeting where lawmakers debated a bill to end the practice. “This is going to lead down a road where the retired and wealthy can serve in the Legislature and the rest can’t,” asserted Anderson.
That bill, which affirmed legislators’ status as part-time workers for pension calculations, died when then-Speaker of the House Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale, blocked lawmakers from hearing it again.
Anderson’s gubernatorial appointment gives him the ability to qualify for a huge pension increase thanks to a loophole in state law. That loophole allows legislators’ part-time work in the Capitol to count as full-time work if a lawmaker serves in a full-time state job for at least 42 months.
For a number of lawmakers, especially legislative leaders, the arrangement can be extremely lucrative.
For example, if former Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert serves as the Department of Insurance director for 42 months or more, he could spike his pension more than 530 percent.
At that point, Cameron’s part-time, $18,000-a-year legislative service would be credited as full-time work at more than $100,000, the former senator’s salary at his new post.
Had Cameron simply retired, his taxpayer-funded retirement payout would be $708 a month. However, by taking Otter’s appointment in June, if Cameron clears 42 months, his pension jumps to more than $4,500 a month.
Anderson can benefit, too, though not quite as much as Cameron. On the utilities commission, Anderson will bring home about $95,000 a year, a massive increase from the $18,000 salary he received in the Legislature.
If the Priest Lake Republican stays at the commission 42 months, he will boost his pension about 427 percent. In raw numbers, his pension will grow more than five-fold, from $3,600 a year to $19,000.
Cameron and Anderson are not the only lawmakers to benefit from this arrangement. Otter appointed former Sens. Elliot Werk, a Democrat from Boise, and John Tippetts, a Republican from Bennington, to high-paying state jobs this year, thereby allowing them to qualify for the non-partisan pension perk.
In June, former Sen. Joe Stegner, R-Moscow, completed his 42 months as the University of Idaho’s lobbyist: Stegner now qualifies for a pension 800 percent higher than what he otherwise would have earned.
In early 2015, a bill to cut down this practice cleared the Idaho House, but Senate Pro Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, tucked it away in a favored committee, where the bill died.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Steve Harris, R-Meridian, said he will try to fix the problem again in 2016.