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Legislative year marked by stimulus -- for government workers

Legislative year marked by stimulus -- for government workers

Dustin Hurst
January 21, 2017
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January 21, 2017

Idaho’s 2017 legislative session could catch fire as the year of the stimulus for state government workers.

Lawmakers are expected to consider numerous proposals to spend more on pay and benefits  for government workers, which could cost taxpayers millions.

The biggest spending item is a pay raise for Idaho teachers as part of the state’s career ladder plan. The plan calls for $62 million more in teacher salaries in its third year. Legislators have poured a combined $75 million into the plan through its first two years.

Gov. Butch Otter also wants to boost state workers’ paychecks, calling for a 3 percent merit-based raise as part of his budget pitch. The Committee on Employee Compensation has agreed to this and will recommend the merit raise to the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee (JFAC).

If JFAC adopts the recommendation, it will cost taxpayers $38 million, $18 million of that coming from the state general fund, the rest from dedicated and federal funds.

That’s not the end of spending on state worker compensation.

Otter also wants lawmakers to pick up about $48 million in increased health care costs for state workers. The state general fund would cover more than $7 million of the total, dedicated and federal dollars would cover nearly $8 million more. Otter wants to divert reserve funds to cover the balance.

If Otter has his way,  the state would distribute an additional $15 million to school districts would see new money to handle increased health insurance costs for teachers in 2018.

The Public Employee Retirement System of Idaho (PERSI) might ask lawmakers to approve a retirement contribution rate increase of 1 percent. Government employers would pick up two-thirds of cost of the increase.

If lawmakers agree, the state would spend an additional $17 million on pensions and employees would pitch in $10 million more a year beginning July 1, 2018. PERSI and legislators, however, could reverse the contribution rate increase if the market improves and PERSI realizes larger investment returns.

Legislators will also consider a bill to expand retirement benefits for juvenile corrections officers and emergency dispatchers. The proposal would require officers and dispatchers to contribute more to their pensions, but would allow workers to collect full pensions sooner. The taxpayer-funded agencies employing these workers would also contribute to cover the additional pension costs.

Proponents believe the plan would cost taxpayers an extra $182,000 per year.

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