House sends bill to exclude per diem from retirement benefits to the Senate

House sends bill to exclude per diem from retirement benefits to the Senate

Dustin Hurst
February 6, 2012
Dustin Hurst
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February 6, 2012

Blackfoot Republican Rep. Dennis Lake’s bill to cut per diem payments out of retirement calculations is having an easy time making it through the Statehouse, just as he predicted it would.

Idaho House members voted 70-0 Monday to pass Lake’s bill, which now heads to the Senate for consideration.

Lake told colleagues on the House floor that it’s likely no one ever thought that this problem would arise. “I think this was an oversight,” Lake said, adding that retirement program managers didn’t know per diem payments counted toward retirement. “They were, quite frankly, surprised this was taking place.”

Lake’s legislation is seeking to create retirement equality among Idaho lawmakers. The way the state is conducting its per diem gives lawmakers within 50 miles of the Idaho Capitol larger pensions than those outside the 50-mile radius.

The problem is that lawmakers living within 50 miles of the Idaho Capitol have their per diem payments included in their paychecks and the payments are regarded as taxable benefits. The Public Employee Retirement System of Idaho (PERSI) then uses the salary rates to compute a legislator’s retirement payment.

Lawmakers outside the 50-mile radius do not have per diem included in salaries and are issued a check during the months of the legislative session.

Two lawmakers doing essentially the same amount of work each year could have entirely different pension payments simply because of where they live. Lake estimates per diem inclusion results in pension payments about 25 percent higher than they should be, depending on the length of legislative session.

Two senators caught up in a separate per diem controversy last year illustrate the discrepancy.  Republicans Curt McKenzie, Nampa, and John McGee, Caldwell, have salaries much higher due to the per diem calculation than those senators living outside the 50-mile radius. Records show McGee earned $32,986 in 2009, some $27,842 in 2010, and $29,052 in 2011. McKenzie earned the same amounts as McGee in each of the three years.

For comparison, Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, earned a little more than $18,000 in each of the past three years.  Davis, out of the 50-mile radius, received his per diem payments in the form of a reimbursement check from the Senate administration.

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