The taxpayer-funded pensions that Kentucky's part-time lawmakers enjoy have become a focal point in the heated race to represent the state's 12th Senate District in Lexington.
Don Blevins Sr., the Democratic challenger to Republican Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr, has launched an ad campaign promising to push for elimination of state pensions for lawmakers.
Blevins, who already receives a state pension after retiring in 2008 from his 27-year post as Fayette County Clerk, pledged to turn down a second pension if he's elected in November.
"It's a part-time job," Blevins said of the legislature in an interview Friday. "I don't think you can find hardly any part-time jobs which have the pension system."
Kerr said Friday that lawmakers deserve pensions.
"Mr. Blevins may think that being in the legislature is part-time. For me, it has never been a part-time position," she said, noting that she serves on several legislative committees.
Kerr said in an interview Thursday that she thought it was the "epitome of hypocrisy" for Blevins to take up the issue of lawmaker pensions, given that he retired in 2008 because a lucrative temporary change in the state pension system expired at the end of that year.
"My benefits would have shrunk in retirement had I not retired then," Blevins said Friday.
Kerr also noted that, if elected, Blevins wouldn't be eligible to receive a pension from the Senate for five years. State senators face re-election every four years.
Blevins said her criticism was "a smokescreen."
In a full-page ad in Wednesday's Herald-Leader, Blevins said Kerr and her colleagues have steadily voted to increase the pension benefits they will receive and, in 2005, "slipped in a law to treat their part-time years in the legislature as full-time."
"We have people who are retiring now whose benefits have accrued into the multi-millions and that's just outrageous," Blevins said in Friday's interview.
In 2005, the General Assembly changed state law to allow lawmakers who go on to hold other state jobs to use their higher, non-legislative state salaries when calculating their legislative pension benefits.
Kerr said she is not in favor of the enhanced benefit and voted to change the law earlier this year. Senate Bill 51, which would have repealed the enhancement, passed the Republican-controlled Senate 21-17 in a party-line vote. It later died in the Democratic-controlled House State Government Committee.
In the ad, Blevins said the repeal proposal "was a political game, because they knew the repeal would fail" in the House.
Kerr dismissed that claim. "I don't control what goes on in the House and neither do I know what their agenda is," she said.
In January, when Blevins filed to challenge Kerr, she said Blevins "wants to come to the Senate to be a double-dipper" — a phrase used to describe those who return to government work while also drawing a government pension.
Blevins addressed that charge in the newspaper ad: "I worked full time and paid into the pension funds for twenty-seven years. Since retiring, I receive one pension. I never tried to double-dip the public pension system and I won't now."
Kerr, a Republican, has represented the district since 1999 even though Democrats outnumber Republicans in it 40,260 to 32,242.
The district, which stretches across the southern half of Fayette County, is a key battleground this year in Democrats' efforts to wrest control of the Senate from Republicans, which the GOP has held since 2000.
Republicans outnumber Democrats in the Senate 20-17, with one independent, Bob Leeper of Paducah. Democrats hold a 65-35 advantage over Republicans in the House.