Cadiz, KY

Opinion

Pension disclosures surely raise eyebrows

Wednesday, February 01, 2017 - Updated: 2:09 AM
PMG News Services

One oft-voiced frustration about lawmakers is that they tend not to walk in our shoes.

Take Obamacare. As the law was originally written members of Congress as well as their staffs were required to forfeit their generous Federal Employee Health Benefit coverage and buy insurance through the program.

But the Obama administration quickly realized the law would be short-lived if Congress lived the disaster. So it came up with a waiver, which members and staff gladly accepted. The waiver allowed them to obtain "Gold Level" coverage through the District of Columbia Obamacare exchange. Coverage was 75 percent subsidized by the taxpayers, despite the fact the incomes of members and most staffers disqualified them under the law. The House and Senate also were exempted from the employer mandate, despite employing thousands of people.

This of course was not the experience of everyday Americans. Those who know of the congressional waiver resent it. But many don't know. A few capital publications such as The Hill reported on it, but there wasn't much interest elsewhere.

Closer to home, legislative pensions have hit the radar. This follows the release two weeks ago of pension information about 337 present and former Kentucky lawmakers. It came in response to an Open Records Act request filed by several Kentucky news organizations.

Some of the payouts are eye-popping. Longtime Democratic lawmaker Harry Moberly of Richmond receives $154,912 in annual benefits, according the Lexington Herald-Leader. That tops the list. Locally, former Rep. J.R. Gray of Benton receives $117,732. Both men's payouts were inflated by generous rules that factor in other state employment. Moberly was a top administrator at Eastern Kentucky University. Gray served as former Gov. Steve Beshear's labor secretary.

Projected payouts for current top legislators are more modest. Senate President Robert Stivers stands to receive $49,067. House Speaker Jeff Hoover is in line for $22,740. Former Speaker Greg Stumbo receives $66,754 (he also served a term as Kentucky Attorney General).

Gov. Matt Bevin recently raised a question we had not previously given much thought to: Should legislators receive a pension at all? Bevin thinks not. He says pensions are not consistent with the concept of citizen legislators.

It is something to think about. Kentucky legislative sessions are limited to 60 working days in even-numbered years and 30 in odd-numbered ones. There is other work during the year, mostly committees that meet from time to time. Although some lawmakers argue to the contrary, it is far from a full-time job.

In the private sector part-timers don't get pensions. Nor increasingly does anyone else. Most companies outside the auto industry have frozen their pension plans. Younger workers are shut out, getting at best some company match for their self-funded 401(k)s.. And longtime workers who do have pensions typically can't expect anything approaching the payouts many lawmakers enjoy.

We don't begrudge lawmakers reasonable compensation for their work. Being in Frankfort does mean time away from their jobs. For some the opportunity cost is surely beyond what they earn in legislative pay and expenses.

But it is also a problem when lawmakers don't walk in the same shoes as the people who elect them. Legislative pensions are a sweet deal given the time and tenure required to obtain them. We're glad that there is now disclosure. It is certain to lead to healthy discussion.

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