BIPPS op-ed: Pension transparency does not violate privacy laws

aaronAn op-ed by Bluegrass Institute board member Aaron Ammerman in today’s Lexington Herald-Leader takes issue with recent claims by members of the Kentucky Retirement Systems Board of Trustees that making the commonwealth’s public pension system transparent would violate state and federal privacy laws.

“The statement that federal privacy laws prohibit the disclosure of this information is completely false; several states make these details public,” Ammerman writes.

While the state Senate unanimously passed two bills — Senate Bills 2 and 45 —  during the 2016 legislative session that would shine the light on Kentucky’s ailing pension systems, they failed to receive a vote on the House floor.

“Taxpayers have the right to ask questions and be assured that best practices are being implemented by all pension systems, including the legislators’ benefit plan,” Ammerman writes. “Only full transparency will relieve the doubts we have that such best practices are followed.”

Read the full op-ed here.

Bluegrass Beacon: Clear case for pension transparency takes bizarre turn

BluegrassBeaconLogoUnusual antics occurring on the campaign trail these days include a bizarre race to choose the next president of the Kentucky Education Association (KEA), the state’s teachers’ union.

When’s the last time you heard a KEA candidate ask: “Why does KEA oppose transparency?”

Randolph Wieck, a history teacher at Louisville’s DuPont Manual High School, did so in challenging incumbent union boss Stephanie Winkler in the March edition of KEA News by making his entire statement about the sinking Kentucky Teachers’ Retirement System (KTRS).

Winkler didn’t say a word about the dilemma, beaming instead on Page 4 about how “our membership, leadership and political activism are growing by leaps and bounds every day” while Wieck warned on Page 5: “Your pension is rapidly being drained away.”

He in some ways falls into the same trap as many of his cohorts in the union and legislature by laying too much blame for KTRS’ decline on underfunding while failing to recognize the unsustainability of a pension plan bestowing such lavish benefits.

But he rightly – and very much unlike his union chums – offers a clear and convincing connection between making KTRS more transparent and solving the growing crisis of the entire system he reminds is “at 37% funding (assets/debts) – LOWEST in the U.S.”

Noting that “KTRS has lost 20% of its value in the last three years,” Wieck, who’s filed a federal lawsuit against the KTRS, pummels the record of both the state union and Jefferson County Teachers Association (JCTA).

“Current KEA/JCTA leadership – through limp, ineffective action – are killing your retirement pension,” he leveled.

Whoa! Has Donald Trump found a running mate? Would he be open to adding a union sympathizer who claims to have a degree from the London School of Economics to the GOP ticket?

A better question: If a KEA presidential candidate connects more transparency with meaningful reforms to keep retirement plans from imploding, and if the state Senate unanimously passes bill after bill year after year to create more openness in the commonwealth’s pension system – including during the current legislative session – why do union bosses like Winkler and JCTA chief Brent McKim continue to protect Democratic house leaders who declare shine-the-light bills dead on arrival?

Don’t enquiring union-members’ minds also want to know – as Senate Bill 2 requires be divulged –  how fees for investing and managing their retirement funds, which can approach $100 million during some years, are spent, including how the asset managers – recipients of those fees – are selected?

They do, but it doesn’t seem to matter when the antiquated House Democratic leadership digs in against any form of transparency.

Political antique Brent Yonts, D-Greenville, refuses to allow pension-transparency bills to even get a hearing in the House State Government Committee he chairs and to which such legislation is assigned.

“Any bill that passes 38-0 out of the Senate needs to be heard in committee,” Chris Tobe, public-pension consultant and former Kentucky Retirement Systems’ trustee, said. “Vote against the bill if you want to, but it needs to be heard in committee and you need to be on the record about it.”

It’s also peculiar that Yonts opposes such an approach when it’s so strongly supported even by fellow Democratic Rep. Jim Wayne, arguably the House’s most liberal member and biggest government sympathizer.

Add to the growing list of strange happenings inside Kentucky these days the fact that a recent JCTA flyer expressed support for hedge-fund managers, who also don’t want investment fee information made public.

A teachers’ union joining forces with Wall Street to oppose transparency legislation approved unanimously by Democrats and Republicans in the state Senate and vigorously supported by the most liberal member of their own House?

The only way things could possibly get more bizarre is if Trump hired Bernie Sanders and put him in charge of shrinking the size, spending and scope of the U.S. government.

Jim Waters is president of the Bluegrass Institute, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Reach him at jwaters@freedomkentucky.com. Read previously published columns at www.bipps.org.

 

Bluegrass Beacon: Frankfort plays Ping-Pong with public pension transparency

BluegrassBeaconLogo

Legislation that would make the Kentucky Retirement Systems transparent for those paying its bills has danced into the spotlight during the 2014 session of the Kentucky General Assembly.

Passage of transparency bills filed by Sen. Chris McDaniel, R-Latonia, and Rep. Robert Benvenuti, R-Lexington, would make the “names, status, projected or actual benefit payments” subject to our commonwealth’s superlative Open Records Act.

Such information has been cloaked in secrecy since 1972, when the legislature enacted KRS 61.661 during Gov. Wendell Ford’s administration.

Rep. Brent Yonts, D-Greenville, believes that’s exactly where it should lie.

“I think they’ll rest comfortably on the House side,” Yonts said when asked about the reception pension transparency bills likely would receive in his House State Government Committee.

It was like watching a Ping-Pong match while listening to recent comments on “Pure Politics” by Yonts’ colleague Rep. Jim Wayne, D-Louisville, concerning public pension transparency.

On the one hand, Wayne is right with his House Bill 546, which widens the ban on Kentucky Retirement Systems’ use of placement agents – middlemen who make critical decisions regarding how and where public pension funds are invested (often with firms or hedge funds for whom they work) – and requires KRS to post online the amount of fees it pays to investment firms.

In stating his case for shining a bright light on fund investments, Wayne actually offers a persuasive statement in favor of widening transparency to cover the entire system: “There are a lot of things about the retirement system that have accumulated through the decades that make it difficult to access information. What this legislation does is merely say: ‘Let’s open everything up; let’s make it transparent.’ There are too many retirees and current workers that are dependent upon the proper functioning of this organization or these organizations and we want to make sure that they’re functioning well and that everything is absolutely transparent.”

Why, then, would Wayne follow Yonts’ kneejerk reaction by turning around and opposing Benvenuti’s and McDaniel’s proposal? Do Wayne and Yonts believe that public retirees have a greater claim to transparency than the taxpayers who fund their pensions?

In a phone call from Frankfort, Yonts told me that he doesn’t think transparency should apply to public retirees’ pension information any more than it should to retirement payments received by private sector workers.

“It all comes from the government – both Social Security and public retirees’ checks are issued by the government,” he said. “Besides, it’s all private information; everybody doesn’t need to know everything about what’s going on in everyone’s life.”

But McDaniel and Benvenuti don’t suggest anything even close to making known “everything about what’s going on” in public-pensioners’ lives.

They simply propose letting taxpayers know how their tax dollars are spent related to public pensions – including those of politicians and judges, too many of whom are experts at milking the system by collecting six- or even seven-figure legislative retirement checks while also double- or triple-dipping. This moves Kentucky toward addressing an economic crisis that threatens to crowd out funding for every other vital service in the commonwealth.

Even during this pension policy Ping-Pong match, Wayne stops returning serves long enough to support a possible compromise: transparency for pensions above a certain monetary threshold.

Some lawmakers told me they likely would support such an idea and thought many of their colleagues would also be open to it.

I, too, think there could be great interest on the part of all Kentuckians – including state retirees, most of whom make very modest pensions – in knowing which senators-turned-judges, Attorney-General-turned-House-Speaker or legislator-turned-Agriculture-Commissioner stand to collect lavish pensions, courtesy of taxpayers in a small, poor and economically struggling state.

Jim Waters is president of the Bluegrass Institute, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Reach him at jwaters@freedomkentucky.com. Read previously published columns at www.bipps.org.

 

Pension rally in legislators’ own backyard

Is there a better place to rally and speak out against the lack of transparency and greedily enhanced legislative pensions than the place where Kentucky’s legislators make policy?

I can’t think of one.

Bluegrass Institute president Jim Waters will be speaking at the Capitol Rotunda on Wednesday, February 27 at 2 p.m. at a rally sponsored by the Northern Kentucky Tea Party. Other speakers will include Covington City Commissioner Steve Frank, who will talk about the threat faced by local communities because of pension crises.

If politicians enriching themselves behind closed doors on the backs of Kentucky’s taxpayers bothers you, make sure you attend and speak out!

Courier-Journal features BIPPS’ public pension transparency letter

The following letter to the editor appeared in the Louisville Courier-Journal this morning. Please visit the newspaper’s site and leave your thoughts in the comment section! BIPPS.org - Government Transparency

Interested in how much a legislator earns for part-time work in Frankfort? No problem! You can find out through the Kentucky Open Records Act. Do you want to know how much of your hard-earned money was spent in a specific school district? Would you like to see an itemized check register? Again, no problem! Just do an open records request.

You may even want to take a look at the travel expenses for specific departments in Frankfort. Good news! You can access that information, too. But let’s say you want to find out how much your part-time legislator is raking in through Kentucky’s public pension system. Good luck. Apparently the Kentucky General Assembly doesn’t deem you worthy of that information. It seems odd that taxpayers can access just about every sort of public spending information imaginable except for that related to public pensions.

Why is this the case? Transparency is the first step toward accountability. As of today, Kentucky taxpayers have no way of holding their government accountable for the $34 billion unfunded liability that is sinking the state. If Kentucky’s legislators truly want to represent the people of their state, they will waste no time in opening the books on the Kentucky Retirement System and making those pensions transparent.

LOGAN MORFORD

Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions

The Bluegrass Institute has been working hard to bring attention to the lack of transparency in the public pension system for several years now. You can read more about these issues here.