The Idaho Senate Thursday approved a bill that would exclude per diem money from public pension calculations, paving the way for the legislation to hit Gov. Butch Otter’s desk within days.
The measure was opposed, among others, by Sen. Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa, one of the key figures who caused the measure to come to the Capitol.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, was approved on a 20-12 vote. The measure cleared the House 70-0 on Feb. 6.
It was reported last year that McKenzie, along with former Sen. John McGee, R-Caldwell, were taking extra per diem money for maintaining second residences during the 2011 legislative session while sleeping rent-free at various locations. According to the report, McGee slept at the home of his parents in Boise and McKenzie on a couch in his law office two blocks from the Capitol.
McKenzie and McGee tallied at least $6,000 in extra compensation, funds that will be credited to their public retirement accounts for years to come.
While there were ethical questions about the behavior, it revealed a deeper problem.
Because federal rules state that lawmakers living within 50 miles of the Capitol should have their per diem included with salary, it is counted in pension calculations for lawmakers within that distance.
But lawmakers outside that radius don’t have the money included in pension calculations, essentially creating long-term pay inequity for legislators. It means lawmakers could essentially do the same amount of work for the same amount of time and one could receive a larger pension payout simply for living closer to the Capitol.
McKenzie argued Thursday that lawmakers shouldn’t decide their own pay and compensation, a duty he says is typically reserved for a citizen committee. “I think there’s an open question as to whether we can even do this,” he said.
He then moved to stall the bill, asking the Senate to wait for a vote until the legality of the measure could be studied. The move died for lack of a second.
The bill heads to the Otter’s desk for consideration. He has not indicated publicly which way he might go on the legislation.
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