Rep. James Holtzclaw, R-Meridian, failed Monday in an attempt to kill a bill that would cut down on a special retirement perk for Idaho lawmakers.
The bill, written by Reps. Steve Harris, R-Meridian, and Kelley Packer, R-McCammon, ends a special carve-out for lawmakers who serve lengthy terms in the Legislature for part-time pay and then spike retirement payments through appointments to lucrative state jobs.
Idaho’s pension system determines retirement benefits for lawmakers the same as regular employees -- the highest average 42 consecutive months of pay multiplied by years of service. That allows legislators to score a prized administration job and stay for at least 42 months, thereby adding thousands of dollars each year to their pension payments.
Former state lawmaker Debbie Field, a Republican who served as Gov. Butch Otter’s campaign manager in 2010, is a prime example of the problem Harris and Packer want to address. After Otter appointed her to head the Office of Drug Policy after she lost a legislative race in 2006, Field stayed 43 months in the post.
Field earned just more than $16,000 annually during her 12 years in the Legislature. She brought home $74,000 a year in the ODP post.
She added $1,500 a month to her taxpayer-funded pension. She denied seeking extra benefits, but said she only left the post when she did to spend more time with family.
The new calculation would treat lawmakers as part-time employees, thereby cutting down on the potential for spikes.
Packer, who may seek legislation this year to kick private lobbyists off Idaho’s pension system, said the bill only seeks fairness for lawmakers.
“It comes down to what is fair and equitable,” Packer said.
Holtzclaw told his colleagues he’s not comfortable with the proposal because it treats him and others as part-time workers. “I just can’t get there,” the second-term lawmaker said. “I don’t feel like I’m part-time.”
Reworking this configuration, Holtzclaw added, could limit the pool of people interested in running for the Legislature, which pays very little.
“We need all types of legislators,” he said. “We all come from different places. We are different stages of all life. This is going to reduce, a wee bit, qualified, knowledge people this state so needs to serve.”
Rep. Greg Chaney, R-Caldwell, spoke against Holtzclaw’s reasoning. “My paycheck says I’m part-time,” the freshman lawmaker said. “My contribution pulled out of my paycheck says I’m part-time.”
Holtzclaw motioned to kill the proposal, an unusual move in any measure’s first hearing. Only Holtzclaw supported his move, though, and the House Commerce and Human Resources Committee introduced the bill for further discussion.
Committee Chair Stephen Hartgen, R-Twin Falls, said the issue deserves more debate, though he said he may not support the plan in committee.
“This is a concept that’s come up before,” he said. “In any case, I have some concerns.”
Former Rep. Dennis Lake, R-Blackfoot, introduced similar legislation in 2012, only to have it blocked by then-House Speaker Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale. Denney, just sworn-in as Idaho’s secretary of state, could benefit from the pension spike provision if he stays in the post more than 42 months.