Gov. Holden names Foster to state labor panel

Friday, September 10, 2004

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Republican Bill Foster resigned from the Missouri Senate Thursday to accept a gubernatorial appointment to the state Labor and Industrial Relations Commission -- a panel that has been a source of controversy in recent weeks because of the generous pension benefits it provides to members, even if they serve only briefly.

In his new post, Foster, R-Poplar Bluff, will receive an annual salary of $94,029 -- almost tripling his $31,351 yearly pay as a lawmaker. Foster's Senate term was set to expire in January and he wasn't seeking re-election.

With 11 years of combined service in the Senate and House of Representatives, Foster would have been eligible for a maximum annual pension of $18,288, according to Karen Stohlgren, deputy director of the Missouri State Employees Retirement System. Because of the labor commission's unusual pension plan, however, Foster's retirement pay will jump to $47,615 a year.

Although Foster, 57, would have been able to begin collecting his legislative pension in January, his move to the commission means he won't be eligible for any state retirement benefits until he turns 62.

Foster, a former industrial engineer and small business owner, said the salary and pension wasn't a motivation to seek appointment to the commission. Foster said he passed on more lucrative private sector job offers in order to take the post.

"Whether it be me or some other businessman, somebody is needed in that position. I think that I am qualified," Foster said. "This is something I have been interested in for a long time because I feel very strongly about workers' comp issues and unemployment issues. They are very important to me as a business owner."

The three-member commission is an administrative appeals panel that reviews cases involving financial benefits for workers injured on the job, unemployed workers and crime victims.

Gov. Bob Holden, a Democrat, appointed Foster to replace Ken Legan, also a former lawmaker, as the commissioner representing the interests of businesses. Another member represents labor while the chairman represents the public.

Foster was sworn in as a commissioner Thursday afternoon and will begin work Monday.

Holden drew criticism last month for naming then-Senate Minority Floor Leader Ken Jacob, D-Columbia, as commission chairman. The appointment of Jacob, a longtime Holden ally, came two weeks after he lost the Democratic primary election for lieutenant governor. A 22-year legislative veteran, Jacob's pension will jump from $28,739 to $47,615.

Jacob replaced John Boyd, a Kansas City lawyer who served as temporary chairman for just 14 days. Before his appointment, Boyd didn't have sufficient previous state service to qualify for a pension. His commission stint means he will get $26,783 from the state once he reaches retirement age.

Both Foster and Jacob can serve on the commission pending confirmation by the Senate, which won't be able to consider the nominations until January. By that time, however, Missouri will have a new governor, who could choose to withdraw the nominations before the Senate acts.

Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry officials leveled charges of cronyism at Holden for the Jacob nomination. While noting that Foster has proven a friend to business in the legislature, chamber spokesman Kelly Gillespie said Foster's nomination is another example of the problems with the commission's structure.

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