Taxpayers just made it rain for former Republican Sen. Joe Stegner.
Stegner, a 13-year Statehouse veteran, just completed 42 months in a high-paying government relations job at the University of Idaho, which unlocks fat pension payments when he eventually calls it quits.
On Monday, Steger cleared the 42-month threshold that allows part-time lawmakers to count long terms of service in the Capitol as full-time, thanks to a loophole in state code. The former senator won the appointment to the government relations job at the Moscow school on Dec. 1, 2011, meaning he cleared the 42-month mark just four days ago.
Thanks to the loophole, Stegner will pocket at least an extra $37,000 a year in retirement payments.
Lawmakers pitch into their retirement accounts, paying in nearly 7 percent of their $18,000 yearly salaries. Taxpayers add another 11 percent.
Even after lengthy Capitol careers, legislative pension usually don’t amount to much. Had Stegner simply retired instead of taking the higher education post, he would have earned a mere $4,680 annually, or about $390 a month.
But thanks to the loophole, Stegner’s retirement just became so much sweeter. Working as the university’s liaison, he earned roughly $130,000 a year. Now, all his part-time service as a legislator counts as full-time.
Instead of $4,680 a year, Stegner will bring home $42,900 annually, or about $3,600 a month.
That’s an 816 percent increase.
As he continues in the job, the payout will continue increasing.
Stegner’s only the latest in a string of legislative leaders to benefit from the perk. Just last week, Gov. Butch Otter appointed Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, to head the Department of Insurance. If Cameron holds that post 42 months, he’ll likely spike his taxpayer-backed pension 550 percent a year.
The week before that, Otter appointed former Sen. Bob Geddes, R-Soda Springs, to lead the Department of Administration. Because Geddes already served 12 months in a high-paying post at the state tax commission -- also thanks to an Otter appointment -- the former lawmaker only needs 30 months to finish his spike.
Like Cameron, Geddes’ spike will likely end around 550 percent.
Pension-spiking is hardly a partisan issue. In February, Otter tapped Democrat Sen. Elliot Werk of Boise to the Public Utilities Commission. If he clears the bar, he could spike his pension 400 percent.
Other lucky beneficiaries include former House members Ken Roberts, a Republican from Donnelly, and Debbie Field, a Republican from Boise.
All the former lawmakers held leadership positions.
Critics are starting to take notice of the arrangements. Just this week, the Lewiston Tribune’s Marty Trillhaase put the governor and the former lawmakers on blast.
“This isn't just a case of politicians feathering their nests,” Trillhaase wrote. “Dangling the potential of a comfortable retirement before lawmakers gives governors enormous political clout. Every time the governor calls, a lawmaker confronts a potential conflict of interest between his constituents and his own well-being.”
The Idaho House cleared legislation to curtail the practice, but Sen. Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, killed the measure by sending it to his pet panel, the powerful Senate State Affairs Committee. The panel’s chairman, Sen. Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa, refused to give the bill a hearing.
Senate Commerce and Human Resources Chairman John Tippetts, R-Bennington, told IdahoReporter.com he’d give the bill a hearing after it cleared the House.
The House counterpart to Tippetts’ committee heard and passed the plan to the House floor.
Hill has ignored IdahoReporter.com’s questions about his decision to reroute the proposal.