The Idaho Department of Correction introduced legislation Tuesday to expand retirement benefits for juvenile corrections officers, as well as emergency dispatchers.
The legislation, introduced in the House Judiciary, Rules and Administration Committee, would require juvenile corrections officers and dispatchers to contribute more to their pensions, but would allow the workers to collect full pensions quicker. The taxpayer-funded agencies that employ these workers would also pitch in extra money to cover the additional pension costs.
Teresa Baker, director of government affairs for the Idaho Association of Counties, told the panel Tuesday, the increased pension benefits would help employee retention efforts and could save new-employee training dollars. She added, dispatchers often burn out from stress and quit before reaching full retirement.
“As public officials, we need to do our best to retain these individuals and these employees we have spent thousands of dollars training,” Baker said. “We need to support them in their employment choice, and the Rule of 80 is a step in the right direction.”
Idaho law allows police officers and firefighters to retire when their age and years of service equal 80, commonly called the Rule of 80. Thus, a person who joined a police agency at age 20 could retire with full benefits at 50. Cops and firefighters pay 8.36 percent of their salary to their own pensions, while their government employers pitch in another 11.66 percent.
Under Idaho law, most state and local government employees, including teachers, retire with full benefits once their age and their years of service equal 90. Workers who fall in this category pay 6.79 percent of their salary to retirement and their respective government employers pitch in another 11.32 percent.
The legislation being considered would allow currently employed juvenile probation officers and dispatchers to choose to move to the Rule of 80. New hires would automatically fall under that classification.
Baker estimated the proposed legislation would cost government agencies statewide an extra $182,000 per year, based on existing pension contribution rates.
However, existing contribution rates could increase soon, which would drive the cost for Baker’s bill higher. The Public Employee System of Idaho, dealing with poor returns for its investment portfolio, will ask lawmakers this session to approve a one percent contribution increase. If lawmakers approve the hike, government employers will bear two-thirds of the new costs, and employees will pay the rest.
Regardless of contributions, a pension reform expert suggests lawmakers should reject Baker’s bill.
Steven Greenhut, the Western Region Director for the R Street Institute and author of a book on pension reform, told IdahoReporter.com Tuesday that average Idahoans will see little benefit from the extra spending.
“No one is saying that these aren't important jobs, but there's no public benefit to doing this,” Greenhut said. “And even if one believes that these groups of workers ought to have such lush retirements, it's bad public policy to expand them given that such defined-benefit plans are not fiscally sustainable.”
As his home state of California and its cities grapple with crushing pension debt, Greenhut warned Idahoans, “One of the main reasons we have such a big pension crisis here in California is because of the endless expansion of benefit levels to new categories.” He noted, “We've seen safety benefits granted to, say, billboard inspectors, etc. It's ridiculous. Idaho ought not follow suit.”
Note: The original version of this story listed Baker as the public information officer for the Idaho State Policy. Baker left that post last year. IR has updated the story. We regret the error.