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Bill To Reveal Lawmaker Pensions Heads To House Floor

Ervins Strauhmanis/Creative Commons

Lawmakers’ state-run retirement funds would be subject to open records requests under a bill that a House committee approved Wednesday morning.

Legislators have drawn criticism because their pension system — the Kentucky Judicial Form Retirement System — is significantly better funded than the retirement funds for teachers, most state employees and state police.

The legislation would require state retirement systems to disclose pension payments to current and former members of the legislature.

Sen. Chris McDaniel, a Republican from Covington and sponsor of the bill, said lawmakers should open up their pensions to the public.

“Dedicated public servants, and our teachers, and our state police, and everyone else has a right to know — as do the taxpayers — whether we’ve got any kind of a conflict or whether we personally benefit,” he said.

The Judicial Form Retirement System has 85 percent of the money it needs to make future payments. Meanwhile, the teacher pension system is only 45 percent funded, and the Kentucky Retirement Systems fund for most state employees is only 17 percent funded.

McDaniel said revealing pension information would win public confidence and motivate lawmakers to take the pension problem more seriously.

“That confidence needs to be there, and the public scrutiny that would be affiliated with that would be an appropriate deterrent and motivation sometimes to ensure we are doing the will of the taxpayers,” he said.

Lawmakers have also come under fire for pension “spiking” — drawing larger pension checks by moving on from the legislature to more lucrative jobs in state government. For example, former Democratic state Rep. John Tilley recently became Gov. Matt Bevin's justice secretary.

Rep. Phil Moffett, a Republican from Louisville, said transparency would discourage such behavior.

“Everyone knows that if you’re being watched, you act differently. It is true of human nature,"
he said. “The more eyes we have on our pension systems, the better our pension systems will become.”

The bill passed the House State Government Committee 19-2.

Rep. Reginald Meeks, a Democrat from Louisville who voted against the bill, questioned its value.

“I, for one, have never had citizens, constituents asking about our retirement,” he said.

One reason the Judicial Form Retirement System is so well-funded is that it currently only manages funds for 343 people. The teacher pension system manages pensions for more than 140,000 current and future retirees, and Kentucky Retirement Systems represents 120,000 state employees.

Rep. James Kay, a Democrat from Versailles, said lawmakers should be put in the same retirement system as state employees.

“We need to put them in the system with the regular state employees to show unity, to show solidarity, and to show that down the road, those legislators will have to vote against themselves if they do not vote to fund the state pension system,” Kay said.

The bill already passed the state Senate. Lawmakers have until April 13 to approve legislation.