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Beshear should end pension spiking for legislators who join his team

Gov.-elect Andy Beshear has selected longtime state Rep. Rocky Adkins as his senior adviser. Will Beshear follow the lead of outgoing Gov. Matt Bevin, who, according to administration officials, required legislators appointed to positions in his administration to forego using the salaries earned in their executive positions to spike their legislative pensions?

Adkins finished second to Beshear in this year’s Democratic gubernatorial primary. At that time, I wrote in a Bluegrass Beacon column:

While Adkins probably has altruistic reasons for wanting Kentucky’s top political job, he also has an added incentive not available to his opponents: the ability to spike his legislative pension and become a millionaire twice over, courtesy of the taxpayers.  Legislation passed in 2005 allows lawmakers receiving part-time pay while in the General Assembly to be appointed or elected to a full-time position in state government and apply the highest three years of salary to their legislative pension, even though their work was in, say, the executive branch. Lawmakers’ pensions are based on the average of their three highest-salary years multiplied by their years of service and a benefit factor, which is 2.75 percent for legislators who became members of the legislative pension system after 1982, including Adkins, who first came to the legislature in 1987.

Should Adkins serve four more years in the legislature – at which time he will have “maxed out” of the legislators’ retirement plan by reaching the point where his pension benefits equal 100 percent of his legislative pay – he would retire with an annual legislative pension of less than $32,000, according to an analysis of lawmakers’ salaries reported by the Legislative Research Commission. ---What is pension pork, anyone?

Because of House Bill 299 passed in 2005, Adkins would be allowed to use the highest three years of salary he would earn as governor to spike his legislative pension – from less than $32,000 to nearly $140,000, based on an average of the governor’s salary during the past three years. Adkins’ legislative pension, which would spike by nearly $108,000 after his first term as governor, would be even higher should he win reelection.Were this guitar-picking politician from the east to serve two terms as governor, his pension would rival the chief executive’s current salary of nearly $149,000.

But let’s not get too optimistic here about his political chances; voters still must decide. Conservatively, if Adkins were to serve a single term as governor and then retire, he would – based on life-expectancy tables for a white male born on Nov. 4, 1959, which this year happens to fall on the day before the General Election – reap a lifetime windfall of nearly $2 million in additional pension benefits than had he retired from the legislature. No wonder HB 299 was known as “the greed bill.” Ridding Kentucky of this corrupt reciprocity-enabling scourge was part of omnibus pension legislation struck down by the Kentucky Supreme Court in December.

That should not prevent legislative leaders from correcting this egregious policy in a separate bill during the first week of the 2020 session of the General Assembly, even if – especially if – Adkins is governor.

While the numbers in that column speculated on how much of a windfall Adkins would pocket from taxpayers were he to become governor, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported on Monday that Adkins will likely reap “a potential six figure salary over the next four years” as an adviser. (Doesn’t that sound like such a demanding and productive position?)

Beshear should follow his immediate predecessor’s lead and require Adkins and other legislators who may come on board during his administration to agree to accept a legislative pension based only on their time actually served in the General Assembly and not play the spiking game.He should avoid following the example of Bevin’s immediate predecessor, Steve Beshear – who happened to be the governor-elect's own father – and continue to add to Kentucky’s pension woes by failing to end such corrupt practices.

By the way, why do part-time legislators get taxpayer-funded pensions anyhow?

How many part-time workers do you know outside the Kentucky Legislature get pensions?

The whole legislative pension system should be shut down and no politician – no matter how long they’ve been in office – should be given, much less accept, a pension funded by hardworking Kentucky taxpayers.

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