Politics & Government

GOP bill to disclose legislators’ pensions advances to full Senate

State Sen. Chris McDaniel, R-Latonia, is sponsoring a bill that would allow people to learn how much legislators are collecting from their state pensions.
State Sen. Chris McDaniel, R-Latonia, is sponsoring a bill that would allow people to learn how much legislators are collecting from their state pensions. Legislative Research Commission

Republicans are taking another shot at revealing lawmakers’ state pensions to the public, a transparency effort that Democrats blocked for at least the last four legislative sessions.

The Senate State and Local Government Committee on Wednesday unanimously approved Senate Bill 3, sponsored by state Sen. Chris McDaniel, R-Latonia. The bill proceeds to the full Senate.

Under SB 3, anyone could file a request under the Kentucky Open Records Act to learn the retirement benefits being paid or promised to members of the General Assembly from the state’s three public pension systems.

Nearly all of the 138 current lawmakers, and scores of their predecessors, are enrolled in pension funds overseen by the Kentucky Judicial Form Retirement System, for which taxpayers last year contributed about $3.4 million.

Some of them also draw pensions from the Kentucky Retirement Systems, for state workers, or the Kentucky Teachers’ Retirement System. Thanks to changes passed by the General Assembly, some lawmakers have been allowed to boost their legislative pensions by taking high-paying jobs in the executive or judicial branches or at a state university.

Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, told his fellow committee members that he expects to receive about $1,400 a month in retirement from his legislative pension.

“I believe that is wholly appropriate to reveal to the public,” Thayer said. “Most of the money that goes into our retirements indeed comes from the taxpayers.”

While Kentucky’s retirement systems for state workers and school teachers have a $32.6 billion unfunded liability, legislators’ pensions are conservatively invested and solvent, with 79 percent of the funds they’re expected to need for future benefits.

Public pensions in Kentucky are exempt from the Open Records Act, unlike public salaries, which must be disclosed upon request.

McDaniel has tried for years to crack open legislators’ pensions to public scrutiny. But every bill of his passed by the Republican-led Senate was stopped in the Democratic-led House by Rep. Brent Yonts, longtime chairman of the House State Government Committee.

“My basic philosophy is, if you’re in public office or if you’re a public employee, then what you’re currently earning as salary should be public information, and it is,” Yonts said during the 2016 session. “Once you’ve retired, though, what you draw from retirement benefits is nobody else’s business.”

In November, voters ousted Yonts and turned control of the House over to Republicans, where McDaniel said his bill should find a warmer reception this year.

John Cheves: 859-231-3266, @BGPolitics

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