The state retirement system’s director told lawmakers last week his agency doesn’t take a position on pension payoffs for certain legislators, but quietly endorsed the practice behind the scenes.
Don Drum, the Public Employee Retirement System of Idaho’s executive director, wrote to Idaho legislators last week, telling them not to worry too much about critics calling to end pension boosts.
“The fact is these benefits often fall in line with those of long-serving non-legislators retiring from high level positions in government,” Drum wrote.
He laid out the agency’s talking points on the issue; namely reassuring lawmakers that huge pension boosts only indirectly affect Idaho taxpayers. “Taken individually, or as a whole, the legislative exemption has not materially impacted the PERSI fund,” he added.
Drum told legislators “PERSI takes no position” in the letter, but his attachments forwarded with the message suggest a will to continue pension boosts.
He forwarded two articles: A detailed look at the issue’s scope from the Post Register’s Bryan Clark, and a Twin Falls Times-News editorial supporting pension boosts for former lawmakers.
Notably absent: Two pieces critical of PERSI and the pension payoff practice. One, written by the Lewiston Tribune’s Marty Trillhaase, took a bat right to the practice.
“Dangling the potential of a comfortable retirement before lawmakers gives governors enormous political clout,” Trillhaase wrote. “Every time the governor calls, a lawmaker confronts a potential conflict of interest between his constituents and his own well-being.”
The Post Register’s Cory Taule wrote the other excluded piece. Taule, noting the Idaho Republican Party’s June meeting in Idaho Falls, offered this call to action: “If these folks believe the ‘respect the taxpayer’ rhetoric that regularly makes it into their platforms and resolutions, they will demand of legislative leadership to end the PERSI Perk.”
Yet, Drum decided to exclude both opinion pieces.
Kelly Cross, PERSI’s communication director, offered little insight as to why Drum chose the two pieces to send lawmakers.
“The articles were recent with content relevant to the topic of the letter,” Cross wrote in reply to an IdahoReporter.com email.
The pension issue continually proves a thorn in the side of Gov. Butch Otter and legislative leadership. Just last week, KIFI Local News in Idaho Falls dedicated a segment to the topic, detailing how lawmakers like former state Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, qualify for pension boosts of more than 500 percent.
Otter and Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, told the news station the state needs generous incentives to hire and retain quality workers. Idaho Freedom Foundation President Wayne Hoffman called that “nonsense,” and questions why only 105 lawmakers out of Idaho’s 1.5 million residents qualify for top positions at state agencies.
Rep. Steven Harris, R-Meridian, pledged to address the issue through legislation next year, after Senate leadership essentially killed a bill to cut the arrangement in this year’s session.
Here's a link to Drum's letter: