The year before President Harry Truman made famous the saying: “If you can’t convince ‘em, confuse ‘em,” local Chamber of Commerce representative Richard H. Leask wrote a letter to a Bakersfield, California newspaper in which he added a perceptive twist to that maxim.
“There is an old politician’s motto which goes to this effect: ‘If you can’t convince ‘em, confuse ‘em: if you can’t confuse ‘em, scare ‘em,’” Leask wrote. “It is an old political pattern than unfortunately works too well, but it is also a pattern that is always followed by an opposition without any real foundation for its arguments.”
Such fittingly describes the opposition to making Kentucky’s decaying public pension system transparent to the extent that taxpayers know the names of public retirees, how much they collect and the number of monthly retirement-system checks they collect.
House State Government Committee Chairman Brent Yonts, D-Greenville – whose legacy in Frankfort will include stopping pension transparency bills from advancing by denying them a vote in his committee – has the “confuse ‘em” part down.
Yonts once told me in response to my question about his position on public pension transparency: “it’s all private information; everybody doesn’t need to know everything about what’s going on in everyone’s life.”
He added to the “confusion” in response to being asked about legislation passed unanimously in January by the state Senate, telling reporters that compensation is transparent for elected officials and public employees while they work, but that it all should change the day they retire.
“What you draw from retirement benefits is nobody else’s business,” Yonts said.
But even a candidate to become the next president of the state teachers’ union understands the need to bring retirement systems out of the dark and into the light – even if the committee chairman cannot.
Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, D-Louisville, like Yonts, is clearly confused about what government-pension transparency means and doesn’t mean.
Marzian, who, also like the Greenville representative, has no interest in taxpayers knowing how large her and/or her colleagues’’ pension checks may someday be – considering she’s in her 26th year of obstructing sound free-market policies in Frankfort – tries a bit of a different tact to defend her flimsy position.
Whereas Yonts ignores the fact that, as Courier-Journal columnist Al Cross recently put it, “the spending of any public dollar is public business,” Marzian attempts to distract from the real issue by filing an amendment to a bill filed by Rep. Jim DeCesare, R-Bowling Green, that would force all gubernatorial candidates to release their federal tax returns for the current year and prior two years before their names can appear on the ballot.
She reveals her confusion about what true government-pension transparency looks like by trying to compare the governor’s private tax return with a pension account funded by taxpayers.
“He (DeCesare) was the one that talked about full transparency (on government pensions) and if we want full transparency, they need to talk to their governor about releasing his taxes which he said he would do,” an obviously confused Marzian blathers on.
House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, also got in on the act, attempting to distract the conversation about pension transparency by haphazardly comparing the governor releasing his tax returns to making the taxpayer-funded pension system transparent.
“I hear a lot from my friends on the other side of the aisle about transparency and it’s just an opportunity to give every person in Kentucky a transparent look at what their highest paid official pays taxes on,” Stumbo said.
However, there’s a big difference between a governor’s privately earned income – income he earned, invested and paid taxes on – versus a public pension system that’s funded, in large part, by you and me – the taxpayer.
Besides, making the public pension system transparent, is, to use Stumbo’s choice of words, “just an opportunity” for taxpayers to know how their dollars are being used – or misused – in relation to Kentucky’s declining retirement funds.