What some candidates could gain in this year’s election – beyond just winning office – is a stark reminder of how wrong political leaders were when declaring last year that they had adequately addressed Kentucky’s public-pension crisis.
Instead, legislators with serious courage deficiencies failed to agree on reforms beyond what they believe are “politically feasible.”
While the legislature did place future public workers in a hybrid cash-balance plan, they didn’t ensure significant savings would accrue by also limiting expenditures, including benefit creep – a huge contributor to the Kentucky Retirement System’s ailments.
Lawmakers also failed to touch the system’s most immoral practice – allowing its incumbent members to personally benefit from voting for a pension-spiking bill.
Kentucky Roll Call publisher Lowell Reese estimates state taxpayers will fork over an estimated $735,000 in additional – yes, additional – legislative pension benefits to Sen. Walter Blevins Jr., D-Morehead, if he wins this year’s election for Rowan County Judge-Executive.
A review of Blevins’ three decades in Frankfort – he was first elected in the early 1980s when Hall and Oates’ “Maneater” was a hit song – reveals a penchant for being a “taxpayer-eater,” and not just because of the big expense tabs he’s run up in what the commonwealth’s founders created as a part-time position. (The Morehead News reports that Blevins in 2012 was reimbursed nearly $40,000 for expenses alone in addition to his salary. Hey, it’s a great gig if you can get it.)
Blevins is hoping to get an even better taxpayer-funded engagement as judge-executive. If he ultimately wins the seat, state law requires him to resign his Senate seat before taking the oath of office as a county official.
I doubt he’ll mind.
Along with pocketing an $87,000 salary, Blevins will be enrolled in the County Employees Retirement System, which will make him a triple dipper as he then will be collecting taxpayer-funded pension checks from not one, not two, but three of Kentucky’s six public-retirement funds.
This is how it works for Blevins:
He’s been in the legislature so long that he’s “maxed out” on his legislative pension, meaning he reached the threshold where that pension would be 100 percent of his pay – about $41,000 annually – as a state politician.
When he “maxed out” his legislative pension, Blevins was automatically enrolled in a second pension system, the Kentucky Employees Retirement System. Despite the fact that the KERS is in danger of becoming insolvent, part-time politicians like Blevins still get thousands of additional dollars throughout their lifetime just from this pension system alone.
However, if you think taxpayers are getting off the hook with a $41,000 pension check here or a $5,000 retirement check there, then you might consider, as Hall and Oates wondered: “What do you think you’re getting for free?”
House Bill 299 passed in 2005 would allow Blevins, should he win, to figure his legislative pension based on his judge-executive salary rather than limiting it to what he raked in during his General Assembly tenure. Reese notes that taxpayers as a result would shell out twice as much in legislative pension benefits for Blevins than if HB 299 had not passed.
The worst part: Blevins was one of 30 state senators who voted for that pension-padding policy, making him a personal – and greedy – beneficiary of his own vote.
If you combine all of Blevins’ pension checks, should he win the judge-executive’s race, taxpayers will fill this one politician’s golden parachute with nearly $1 million – just because he managed to hang around for so damn long.
Hall and Oates crooned about a “she-cat” that they were “watching and waiting, oh-oh, here she comes.”
We’re “watching and waiting,” too: to see if they, the voters, “come” – and become – “self-serving politician-eaters.”
Jim Waters is president of the Bluegrass Institute, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read previously published columns at www.bipps.org.