For some, snowbirding offers sunny skies, warmer weather and lots of leisure in places such as Texas, Florida and Arizona.
For members of Idaho’s pension system, snowbirding means a little more: They must pay the travel costs of a state agency board member.
Since 2012, the Public Employee Retirement System of Idaho (PERSI) has spent more than $14,000 to cover board member J. Kirk Sullivan’s travel costs from his Arizona home to Boise so he can perform his official duties. Because PERSI receives no state general fund dollars, travel and other administrative expenses come from the agency’s trust funds, which it uses to pay pension beneficiaries.
PERSI says it’s well-known that Sullivan resides in Scottsdale, Ariz., during Idaho’s frigid winter months.
Public records released to IdahoReporter.com revealed PERSI has covered 19 flights from Arizona airports to Boise, which allowed Sullivan to attend board meetings, portfolio meetings, investment committee gatherings and his 2012 re-appointment hearing in the Idaho Senate.
PERSI has covered $9,289 in airfare for Sullivan’s travel from Arizona to Boise since 2012.
The board member’s airfare costs have varied wildly. In November 2014, Sullivan spent $859 for a round trip flight from Phoenix to Boise on US Airways, which PERSI reimbursed.
In February 2015, the board member spent $816.20 to purchase a round trip flight from Scottsdale to Boise. In February 2012, Sullivan spent $455.60 on airfare to attend that month’s board meeting and his Senate confirmation hearing. PERSI reimbursed both charges.
PERSI, which administers the state’s taxpayer-backed retirement program, has reimbursed Sullivan $5,126 since 2012 to cover taxi fares associated with his flights.
Sullivan’s ground-travel expenses have also varied, but show a bit more regularity. During his February 2012 trip for the PERSI board meeting and his Senate re-appointment hearing, Sullivan spent $240. He spent that amount, or close to it, 13 of the 19 times he sought reimbursement from PERSI for airport-related taxi travel.
Most recently, this month Sullivan spent $365 on taxis during a trip from Scottsdale to Boise.
In the Treasure Valley, Sullivan prefers to use American Luxury Taxi, a Meridian-based transportation company that most recently added a Mercedes R-350 to its fleet, to move around town. In Scottsdale, Sullivan favors Top Notch Transportation, a Phoenix-based firm boasting an opulent car fleet of Cadillac Escalades, Lincoln Navigators and Towncars and a Hummer H2 stretch limousine, among other choices.
PERSI records also show $2,976 in reimbursements for Sullivan’s taxi travel around the Treasure Valley. In April 2016, for example, Sullivan spent a combined $390 on taxis for three separate round trips from his Meridian home to the PERSI offices in downtown Boise.
Between Nov. 13 and Dec. 1 of 2015, Sullivan spent $330 on two round trips via taxi from his Meridian home to the PERSI offices, plus one trip to Bown Crossing in Boise for an investment dinner.
Sullivan boasts a long resume in Idaho politics. He served as the government affairs manager of Boise Cascade, founded lobbying firm Veritas Advisors and chaired the Idaho Republican Party. He’s served as a member of the PERSI board since 1996.
He’s owned property in Arizona for nearly two decades, which PERSI Public Information Officer Kelly Cross said is no secret.
“Sullivan has owned the Arizona property since 1999, which is a fact known by the Chairman of the Board, and every Governor to appoint Mr. Sullivan since that time,” Cross told IdahoReporter.com Thursday.
Cross added the Arizona travel didn’t bother PERSI board Chairman Jody Olson when he urged Idaho Gov. Butch Otter to re-appoint Sullivan to the board in 2011 and 2016.
Asked about the fairness of the pension fund covering travel to and from his winter home, Sullivan responded, “I am a proud member of a team dedicated to PERSI and its members. We value member feedback and are open to discuss their questions at any time. I and the other Board members believe direct contact is the most effective way to communicate.”
As for the taxi travel throughout the Treasure Valley, Cross pointed to a section of state travel rules that allow access to special accommodations for state travelers with disabilities. At 81, Cross said Sullivan walks with a cane, but cannot travel long distances by foot.
Sullivan’s preferred Boise-area taxi company, American Luxury Taxi, doesn’t provide specialized services for disabled travelers. The company’s owner, Shuki Delic, told IdahoReporter.com Thursday, “American Luxury Taxi works with business travelers and nothing else.”
Delic said his fleet offers no specialized equipment to handle disabled travelers.
When pressed for clarification about Sullivan’s Treasure Valley taxi travel, Cross declined to elaborate further. “We are not in a position to discuss Mr. Sullivan’s disability,” Cross said Thursday. “We understand his limitations and we know he requires local transportation.”
Joy Fisher of Moscow is the only other board trustee who resides outside the Treasure Valley. Cross confirmed that Fisher, whose term runs through 2019, receives travel reimburse from PERSI.
All board members receive a $50-per-day honorarium for their service. Cross confirmed Sullivan only receives the payment on days he attends PERSI meetings, but not travel days.