Nearly a fifth of the Idaho Legislature is receiving a monthly state pension payment while still being paid a state salary.
According to the state’s public pension system, 18 out of the state’s 105 lawmakers partake in “double dipping” — a practice in which elected officials collect government salaries and pensions at the same time, sometimes for the same job.
The practice is legal under state law, and a private one. Individual pension records, including state elected lawmakers, are exempt from Idaho’s public records law. Furthermore, lawmakers rarely mention if they have a possible conflict of interest while debating pension reform.
This all makes it difficult for taxpayers to know what kind of benefits their representatives are collecting; and increased scrutiny from fellow lawmakers and other supporters of pension change have called for change inside the system.
More than 20 lawmakers are listed as retired according to the state’s legislative directory, but only a handful note if they retired from a state position. However, the state’s Public Employee Retirement System of Idaho can disclose general information.
For example, the average monthly payment for the 18 lawmakers currently receiving a state pension is $1,630, or $19,560 a year. The highest payment is $4,300 per month, while the lowest pension payment is $280 per month.
Additionally, all lawmakers receive a $17,358 annual salary, travel reimbursements and a per diem when the Legislature is in session.
Other advantages granted to lawmakers include allowing them to be vested into the state’s pension system after five months — essentially guaranteeing them benefits — while most other public employees are vested after five years.
“The Legislature has given itself special perks, and it has done via the pension system,” said Wayne Hoffman, executive director of the Idaho Freedom Foundation.
Hoffman’s organization, a free market think tank, has been one of the growing critics of the Legislature’s pension system. Specifically, his group is advocating for the removal of a loophole, carved out by the Legislature in the 1990s, that allows lawmakers to calculate years of legislative service differently than any other Idaho employee when it comes to retirement benefits.
For example, say a mayor makes $17,000 a year for more than 20 years, but then gets appointed to a state position that pays $106,000 a year. After 42 months, her retirement pay would be split between her city service and state service, rounding up to a total of about of about $19,500 a year.
Meanwhile, a lawmaker who serves the exact same amount of time in the Statehouse for the same pay, but then gets appointed to a similarly high paying state position will receive $65,700 a year in pension. This is because the law exempts legislators from having their pensions be split up.
Earlier this month, a legislative citizens committee agreed to draft a letter urging legislative leadership to address the so-called pension spiking during the 2017 session.
A year before, Rep. Kelley Packer, a Republican from McCammon, attempted to bring legislation changing the way lawmakers receive their pension in 2015, but her bill stalled in the Senate after passing the House.
“Lawmakers shouldn’t have a special perk for them, it should be equal for everyone,” she said.