Editorials

Ky. pension system is public business

Rep. Brent Yonts, D-Greenville, is certainly right that the public "is not entitled to know every little thing about us."

We don't need to know Yonts' blood pressure or where he gets his hair done, or which, if any, bourbon he likes to sip of an evening.

But taxpayers are entitled to know how much he and every other state employee will receive from our public pension systems.

Yonts, chairman of the House State Government Committee, made his "every little thing" remark while explaining his opposition to two bills — prefiled for the upcoming session — that would increase transparency in the beleaguered public retirement systems.

Specifically, Yonts thinks the public just doesn't have the right to know how much retirees are drawing in public pension benefits.

"Frankly, I don't think that's the public's business," he told reporter John Cheves.

It is all the public's business: How much people draw and how much the retirement systems pay hedge fund managers and other investment advisers.

Right now the largest of these funds, the Kentucky Employees Retirement System, which covers workers in non-hazardous jobs, is at a perilous 21-percent funding level. That means it has only about one in five of the dollars it is obligated to pay out.

This has happened for several reasons, undoubtedly the most important being that governors and the General Assembly have balanced too many budgets by forgoing the state's annual match to the money paid in by employees. That's a breach of promise and an unconscionable slap at state workers.

But there are other reasons, too. The General Assembly has granted rich extra benefits to its own members. Lawmakers who later work a few years as judges or in the executive ranks of state agencies are eligible for public pensions that run to six figures.

Others game the system, too, by spiking their salaries just before retirement, through unusually large raises, overtime or compensation pay to boost their lifetime pensions. There are double-dippers who collect a pension from previous state employment while working at another state job.

And, then there's the $55 million that the retirement systems paid to investment managers with very little disclosure about what we got for that money.

It's impossible to fix Kentucky's public pension mess without laying all the cards on the table. How much do the spikers, double-dippers and well-retired lawmakers cost the system? No one knows, or if they do they're not telling. How are the investment advisers' fees set and what do we get for them?

Yonts and public employees who say retirement benefits are none of our business should get over it.

Employees are absolutely right that they took jobs and paid into the retirement system on the belief the money would be there.

But taxpayers funded those salaries and will pay the lion's share of the bill to solve the pension mess. They have the right to know every little thing.

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