U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee gives up his $174,000-a-year job in Congress on Tuesday to run for governor, but he'll qualify for $44,000 in pension benefits when he turns 62 next year. Running for governor, though, will cost him one valuable perk: lifetime coverage under the federal employees' health plan.

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WASHINGTON — Jay Inslee officially gives up his $174,000-a-year seat in the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday to campaign full time for a lower-paying job as Washington governor.

But Inslee will qualify for his full $44,000 annual congressional pension when he turns 62 in February, meaning he could pull down a total of more than $210,000 a year if he moves into the governor’s mansion in Olympia.

Gov. Chris Gregoire, who is retiring at the end of this year, makes $166,891 a year.

However, running for governor, rather than seeking re-election to Congress, will cost the Bainbridge Island Democrat one valuable congressional perk: lifetime coverage under the federal employees’ health plan.

Members who retire at 62 or older with at least five years of service — Inslee has 15 years — can keep their congressional coverage permanently by continuing to pay their share of the premiums, currently about 25 percent.

Instead, Inslee would be eligible to extend his health coverage only for 18 months. On Monday, his spokesman Mark McIntyre said Inslee will drop his congressional health coverage altogether.

“He will have to make a personal decision about his health coverage now that he’s outside of the federal system,” McIntyre said by email. “He will purchase health insurance, but I don’t know which kind of coverage he will choose to purchase.”

Inslee announced March 10 that he would resign from Congress to focus on his campaign for governor against Republican Rob McKenna, the state attorney general.

Meanwhile, paychecks will continue for Inslee’s staff, at least for now. The House Clerk’s Office on Tuesday will assume supervision of Inslee’s offices in Washington, D.C., and in Shoreline and Poulsbo.

The employees, who numbered about 20 at the end of last year, can stay until Inslee’s successor is sworn in. That way, constituents will still have a place to turn to lobby or get help with federal programs.

Inslee has operated without a communications director in Washington, D.C., since last fall. His chief of staff, Brian Bonlender, is on unpaid leave.

Inslee’s nameplate will be taken off his office in the Rayburn House Office Building. Telephone callers will hear a generic greeting for Washington’s 1st District.

A retiring Congress member’s ability to extend health coverage for 18 months is more generous than what most private employers offer, said Pete Sepp, executive vice president of the National Taxpayers Union, a government-spending watchdog group.

Had he opted for temporary coverage, Inslee would have paid about a quarter of his premiums, instead of picking up the whole tab as workers typically do for their COBRA coverage after they leave their jobs or are laid off.

Also, retiring members of Congress who have served up to 20 years collect 1.7 percent of the average of their three highest annual salaries, multiplied by total years of service. The rate for most other federal employees who serve less than 20 years is 1 percent.

Inslee would hardly be the first politician to draw a salary as well as a public pension. U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Auburn, a former King County sheriff, for instance, received $105,627 in pension in 2010 from the county along with his federal salary.

By custom, former House members are granted a few lifetime courtesies. They include use of the House gym (for a fee) and, perhaps more coveted, free parking on the House side of the Capitol — space permitting.

Kyung Song: 202-662-7455 or ksong@seattletimes.com