Election Central

Denney killed reform bill, now could get sevenfold pension spike

Former House Speaker Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale, personally killed a bill in 2012 that would have closed a loophole that counts part-time legislative service as full-time experience in calculating state pension benefits, reports the Spokesman-Review’s Betsy Russell.

Denney, 65, announced Thursday that he’s running for secretary of state. Were he to win and serve a four-year term, his state pension would increase from about $500 a month to about $3,600 a month. While Denney makes $16,438 as a legislator, secretary of state pays $99,450. Pension benefits in the Public Employee Retirement System of Idaho are calculated based on years of service and the highest 42 months of pay.

Denney was still speaker in 2012 when he asked a committee chairman to “scuttle” the reform bill, writes Russell. Denney acknowledged his role in killing the measure by then-Rep. Dennis Lake, R-Blackfoot, but said he wasn’t motivated by his personal financial circumstances.

Denney told Russell his opposition to the bill was “absolutely not” related to his plans to seek higher office.

“I don’t think any of us run for the retirement, you know,” Denney told Russell. “I think there are certainly other reasons, and I think that’s just part of the compensation. And if you’re fortunate enough to be elected to another office, I think that’s part of it.”

From 1985-1990, the Legislature closed the pension loophole for part-time elected and appointed officials. But in 1990, lawmakers exempted themselves again. All other elected and appointed officials remain limited.

Denney’s ambition to gain full-time state employment goes back more than four years.

He first disclosed his interest in statewide office in May 2009, when he told me he was considering running for treasurer in 2010. At the time, Denney said he expected Treasurer Ron Crane to challenge freshman Democratic Congressman Walt Minnick. He informed his leadership team of his thinking and told me he’d make up his mind by September 2009. “We’ll see what happens,” Denney said. “By the end of the summer, I better know.”

Instead, Crane stayed put and ran for re-election. Denney was re-elected to the Idaho House in 2010 and 2012. In December 2012, Denney was defeated in his bid for a fourth term as speaker by his GOP House colleagues, who elected Rep. Scott Bedke, R-Oakley.

In March 2010, I wrote about grumbling in the House GOP caucus about Denney remaining as speaker, including talk he had made a commitment to retire and let a younger colleague become the House’s top dog. “I had thought about retiring, yes,” Denney said in 2010. “I didn’t make any definite commitments.”

Denney told me then that he’d had a mild stroke in December 2008, an event unnoticed by media but known to colleagues. “That’s where the rumor all started about retirement and my health and what I would do,” Denney said in 2010. “But now I feel good and want to continue.”

In March 2010, I asked Denney if he was looking for a graceful exit to a full-time state post, which could include the cushier pension. In a column about the speculation, I wrote, “In Denney’s case, his retirement would jump from an estimated $4,800 annually to $17,500 were he to hold a $50,000 full-time state job for 3 1/2 years.”

I asked Denney then if he had let it be known he would like such an opportunity. “Officially, no,” he said. “I haven’t talked to anybody in the administration. I think that I would be qualified for quite a lot of things, but I really haven’t even looked into it.”

Among the appointments rumored to be of interest to Denney were the Public Utilities Commission and the State Tax Commission.

Of the PUC appointment, Denney told me in 2010: “That would be interesting.”

Dan Popkey came to Idaho in 1984 to work as a police reporter. Since 1987, he has covered politics and has reported on 25 sessions of the Legislature. Dan has a bachelor's in political science from Santa Clara University and a master's in journalism from Columbia University. He was a Congressional Fellow of the American Political Science Association and a Journalism Fellow at the University of Michigan. A former page in the U.S. House of Representatives, he graduated Capitol Page High School in 1976. In 2007, he led the Statesman’s coverage of the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news. In 2003, he won the Ted M. Natt First Amendment award from the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Association for coverage of University Place, the University of Idaho’s troubled real estate development in Boise. Dan helped start the community reading project "Big Read." He has two children in college and lives on the Boise Bench with an old gray cat.

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