The House State Affairs Committee reversed course Thursday, voting to block 1 percent cost-of-living-adjustments for former state employees.
Thursday's vote to block the increase came less than 24 hours after the panel originally voted to kill legislation designed to do just that. The original resolution, or House Concurrent Resolution 42, proposed by Rep. Dennis Lake, R-Blackfoot, would block the increase granted by the Public Employee Retirement System of Idaho (PERSI) board in December of 2009. According to the bill's fiscal impact statement, blocking the increase could save as much as $50 million "over time."
The vote came as a surprise to several lawmakers and the public because the measure was not listed on the committee's agenda. Rep. Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake, asked lawmakers to reconsider the resolution, which drew staunch opposition from Democrats. Rep. Anne Pasley-Stuart, D-Boise, said she felt the move was an "ambush" and not an example of good government, but rather an effort to "play politics." She added she felt that certain members of the committee "had the rug pulled right from under us."
"This may be legal, but it is highly unethical," said Pasley-Stuart.
Rep. Elfreda Higgins, D-Garden City, added her voice to Pasley-Stuarts objections. "This is blatantly unfair to the people of Idaho," said Higgins. She objected to Anderson's move to address the bill because she felt more notice should be given before address the sensitive topic.
The committee voted to reintroduce the resolution on a party line vote. Following the vote, committee chairman Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, explained that the panel had not received all the information it should have during the PERSI presentation Wednesday. He informed the committee that while the PERSI board had continued to seek COLA increases, it had cancelled contribution-rate increases in 2007. That, Loertscher said, is a problem that must be addressed but was not mentioned at the committee's meeting Wednesday.
"Expenses are increasing while contribution levels are not," Loertscher said. He informed that committee that should PERSI investments continue to perform in the manner in which they have recently (about 4 percent), general fund money could be required to bail out the retirement fund.
Rep. Phylis King, D-Boise, objected to the chairmen's assertions, saying that she trusts the PERSI board.
"I want to see what PERSI says," said King.
Other lawmakers said they changed their minds because of the new information and expressed anger over the proceedings of the previous day's meeting.
"To say the least, I'm livid about it," said Rep. Russ Matthews, R-Idaho Falls.
Rep. John Stevenson, R-Rupert, in reponse to Democratic lawmakers who wanted to the committee to delay the vote for another day so the public could be notified, said "We don't have the luxury of waiting," said Stevenson. "I feel bad we didn't know about this months ago." The 1 percent COLA increase is scheduled to go into effect in March. PERSI has 33,000 retirees who would be affected by the move, many of them former state employees.
On another party line vote, the committed opted to approve the block. Because of the timing and apparent urgency of the legislation, the bill was read-in before the full House just minutes after being passed in committee. The House is expected to take up the measure Friday.
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