Hill should lead charge to end pension payoff scheme

Hill should lead charge to end pension payoff scheme

by
Lindsay Russell Dexter
June 6, 2016
Lindsay Russell Dexter
June 6, 2016

As part of the establishment nepotistic way of succession, Idaho’s moderate legislators often find themselves on the receiving end of gubernatorial appointments to agency director posts, paid commission memberships or other full-time, high-pay state gigs.

On its face, appointing long-time legislators to bureaucratic leadership positions isn’t a huge problem and might make sense. Veteran legislators could possess institutional knowledge that other job applicants may not have.

Though that might bring about certain efficiencies, these appointments come with fiscal baggage. As IdahoReporter.com has reported for years, lawmakers in leadership positions often parlay their public service into high-paying state jobs, which help said legislators exponentially spike their taxpayer-funded pensions.

Pension boosts of 500, 600 or 700 percent are common among the lucky legislators. Former Sen. Joe Stegner, R-Lewiston, boosted his pension more than 800 percent after he took a state job to lobby on behalf of the University of Idaho.

Lawmakers had a chance to end this scheme in 2015. The House passed legislation, written by GOP Reps. Steven Harris of Meridian and Kelley Packer of McCammon, to address the pension perk. But Senate Pro Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, sent the legislation to a pet committee, where the chairman declined to hear the bill.

Had Hill sent the legislation to the correct committee, the bill would have stood a real chance of becoming law. This diversion is especially interesting given Hill’s Senate pro tem position -- a great place to be in line for the next full-time state job.

This issue isn’t going away, though. Just last week, the citizens panel tasked with deciding legislator pay voted unanimously to urge lawmakers to address the pension concern.

Citizens panel member Reed Larsen correctly said the scheme “stinks,” and suggested lawmakers have connections likely to give them a leg up on other applicants when high-paying state jobs come open.

As IFF President Wayne Hoffman noted in his weekly column last week, the arrangement also gives the executive branch of government extra sway over the legislative branch. Are lawmakers likely to oppose a governor who can help make them financially better off upon retirement?

IFF applauds Harris and Packer for their valiant fight for politician pension reform. IFF can only hope Hill will join the growing chorus that is calling for common sense pension reform that will end this special perk.

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