Republican Sen. Dean Cameron of Rupert could boost his taxpayer-backed retirement payout by 558 percent if he stays in his new high-paying state job for 42 months.
Gov. Butch Otter appointed Cameron Friday as leader of the Idaho Department of Insurance, a post the Republican senator will take June 15, 2015.
Cameron, a 13-term Senate veteran, will bring home a salary close to or above six figures. The department’s last leader, former lawmaker Bill Deal, earned $103,000 in 2013.
If Cameron earns close to that salary and stays in the post 42 months before retiring, he would earn more than $55,000 a year in retirement payments, or about $4,583 a month.
If Cameron had simply retired on June 15 without taking the state job, he would have brought home about $8,500 a year, or about $708 a month.
That’s an increase of about 558 percent.
It’s a common trick in Idaho these days. A special few lawmakers serve long careers in the Statehouse, win appointments to high-paying state jobs, stay in the posts 42 months and surge their pensions thanks to a special loophole for legislators.
Thanks to state rules, all of Cameron’s part-time, $18,000-a-year legislative service will be credited as full-time work at the $103,000-a-year rate if he clears 42 months in the agency job.
Cameron will take the post with 42 months and about 21 days left in the Otter administration.
Just days ago, Otter appointed former Republican Sen. Bob Geddes to head the Department of Administration. Geddes, who served on the Idaho State Tax Commission’s oversight board for 12 months after a prior appointment, needs only 30 months in the post to spike his pension 559 percent.
Earlier this year, Otter gave a tax commission post to the former Sen. Elliot Werk, D-Boise. Werk could boost his pension 575 percent if he clears the retirement threshold.
Cameron’s appointment comes shortly after Senate Pro Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, sidelined a bill to effectively end pension-spiking in Idaho. The bill cleared the Idaho House, despite Republican leadership’s attempts to kill it, but did not receive a hearing in the Senate State Affairs Committee.
Now-Secretary of State Lawerence Denney blocked a similar pension-spiking reform measure in 2012, two years before running for his new post. If he serves at least 42 months of his term, he can take his pension from about $500 a month to $3,600 a month, a 620 percent hike.
Steven Greenhut, columnist for the San Diego Union Tribune and author of Plunder: How Public Employee Unions are Raiding Treasuries, Controlling Our Lives and Bankrupting the Nation, told IdahoReporter.com last week pension-spiking hurts taxpayers, who typically don’t understand the practice.
“I don't think people really understand pension spiking, but it's easy to explain: Government officials game the system so that they can inflate their final salary and retire with lots more public dollars,” Greenhut wrote in an email.
Greenhut further blasted the practice. “It probably doesn't mean much in terms of overall dollars,” he wrote. “But spiking does reinforce the unfairness of the system and the games-playing of officials who tend to have an entitlement mentality.”
Cameron, who runs an insurance agency in his town, will have to face his former colleagues in the 2016 legislative session. The Senate questions and approves agency head appointments.
Note: The original post said Cameron would bring home $8,500 a month in retirement payments. He will likely earn that amount as DOI director. His pension payouts will likely hover around $4,500 a month. IR regrets the error.