Three cheers for the Citizens Committee on Legislative Compensation for finally closing the PERSI perk loophole.
The PERSI perk allows a lawmaker who takes a high-paying position at a state agency, as countless have, to count all their years as part-time lawmakers as full-time years of state employment for pension purposes. This can often result in a monthly pension that’s several times larger than they could get without the perk. For years, efforts to close the loophole were blocked.
We disagree with the Idaho Freedom Foundation on many matters, but give them credit on this one. They’ve rightly and consistently pushed to close the PERSI perk loophole for years. Corey Taule, who formerly edited this page, and Marty Trilhaase of the Lewiston Tribune also consistently called lawmakers to task on the issue. Give credit also to former Rep. Dennis Lake, R-Blackfoot, who nearly succeeded in the same effort several years ago, only to have his legislation killed by then-Speaker Lawerence Denney.
(Incidentally, Denney had served 42 months as secretary of state as of July, ensuring his own pension will spike. And even though the Citizens Committee has closed the loophole going forward, current lawmakers, unfortunately, remain eligible for the perk.)
The main argument in favor of the exemption — that experienced lawmakers are especially well suited to top agency positions, and they have to be well compensated to leave their private careers at prime earning age — makes a degree of sense.
But lawmakers are hardly so exceptionally skilled that they deserve a special carve-out that applies only to them. And that’s exactly what the PERSI perk is. Part-time state employees only get partial credit toward their pensions, with the singular exception of lawmakers. It used to be that every state employee, even part-time ones, got full credit. When it became clear that could endanger the health of the pension fund — part-time workers were putting in far less than they pulled out — lawmakers tightened the rules on everyone but themselves.
Because lawmakers aren’t supposed to make decisions about their own compensation, the decision to close the perk seemed to hang in constitutional limbo for years. Though past lawmakers created a law that benefitted themselves, many current lawmakers were convinced that the state constitution, which bars lawmakers from changing their own compensation without the Citizens Committee, prevented them from changing it. But it was unclear whether the Citizens Committee had the legislative authority to change it either.
It appeared nothing would be accomplished. But the Citizens Committee stepped up to the plate last week and found a way to get it done. Now the only remaining option is for lawmakers to actively reject the proposal, an outcome that seems highly unlikely.
This is a real victory for fairness.