State Senate candidates say they'll delay taking office to avoid pension perk

jbrammer@herald-leader.comDecember 7, 2013 

Students posed questions to state Senate candidates at a forum at the University of Kentucky on Dec. 5. Independent Richard Moloney, left on stage, and Democrat Reginald Thomas, center, are eligible for a pension boost if elected.

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  • VOTER INFORMATION

    ■ Polls are open 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Anyone in line by 6 p.m. may vote.

    ■ To find out whether you are registered to vote, where you vote and whether you are eligible to vote in this race, go to the Voter Information Center at the State Board of Elections' website, Elect.ky.gov.

    ■ Voters must produce identification or be known by a precinct officer before voting.

FRANKFORT — Two state Senate candidates in Tuesday's special election in Lexington say they won't take office immediately if voters declare them the victor, a move that would save the state thousands of dollars in pension benefits.

Democrat Reginald Thomas and independent Richard Moloney said Friday they plan to wait until Jan. 1, when a revised pension system takes effect for new lawmakers and state employees.

Under the current pension system, part-time lawmakers are allowed to inflate their pensions by calculating them based on the salary of a full-time government job they had before joining the legislature or one they get after leaving the legislature.

Thomas, an attorney and professor at Kentucky State University, and Moloney, a former city and state official, both have enough prior years on the government payroll to be immediately vested in the legislative pension system.

The Republican candidate in the race, Michael E. Johnson, is a minister and has no vested government service. He has held a part-time job as a Senate doorkeeper.

Results of the election are expected to be certified on Dec. 17 by the state Board of Elections, which would clear the way for the winner to take office immediately.

Under the new state law that takes effect Jan. 1, "pension spiking" will be prohibited for all new-hired state workers, including new legislators. Those employees also will participate in a 401(K)-style hybrid plan.

Anyone employed before midnight Dec. 31 will remain covered by the state's existing defined-benefit pension plans.

Moloney, who also has served on the Urban County Council, told the Herald-Leader he will "lead by example" and reject "the opportunity to be grandfathered in under the gold-plated pension system that expires Dec. 31."

Thomas took a similar stance Friday, after previously telling Kentucky Roll Call, a Frankfort-based political newsletter, that "I should take the office immediately, because that's what I would be elected to do, represent the people once I'm elected."

The newsletter's Dec. 3 issue went on to say, however, that Thomas said he would "consider" waiting.

By Friday, Thomas told the Herald-Leader his mind was made up: "I'm going to wait until Jan. 1 or after to take office if I should win Tuesday's election.

"I did not seek this office for a pension and I don't want to give any signal that that is what I'm doing," he said.

By waiting to take the oath of office until Jan. 1, Kentucky Roll Call estimated Thomas might give up $134,071 in pension benefits if he served 12.4 years, the average length of stay for a state Senator. Moloney might give up an estimated $522,292.

Gov. Steve Beshear called the special election after he appointed Democratic Sen. Kathy Stein in October to a Fayette Circuit Court judgeship. By taking that job, Kentucky Roll Call estimated that Stein stands to gain $888,174 in pension benefits over her lifetime.

The whirlwind special election has featured several public forums in which the candidates discussed a variety of issues in a civil manner.

In advertising, Thomas and Moloney have been far more critical of each other. Thomas has accused Moloney of being a Republican in a district that is more than 2-1 Democratic. Moloney has questioned Thomas' trustworthiness, accusing him of not fully explaining why he left the UK law school as a professor in 1984.

Both Moloney and Johnson were Democrats before changing their party registrations to run in the election.

VOTER INFORMATION

■ Polls are open 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Anyone in line by 6 p.m. may vote.

■ To find out whether you are registered to vote, where you vote and whether you are eligible to vote in this race, go to the Voter Information Center at the State Board of Elections' website, Elect.ky.gov.

■ Voters must produce identification or be known by a precinct officer before voting.

Jack Brammer: (502) 227-1198. Twitter: @BGPolitics. Blog: bluegrasspolitics.bloginky.com

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