The current discussion in Frankfort about how to address Kentucky’s corrupt legislative pension system is, to recast Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” line, “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
Or, certainly “very little.”
While lawmakers from both parties in Frankfort finally realize that taxpayers’ fiscal fuses are growing short, it’s evident from the flurry of pension bills pre-filed for this year’s Kentucky General Assembly that there remains little appetite for taking meaningful action to address the out-of-control Legislators’ Retirement System.
Yet our political leaders want an increasingly impatient citizenry to believe they are tackling abuses head-on, when all most of them seem to want to do is erect a satisfactory facade.
Why did none of the eight pre-filed bills for this year’s Kentucky General Assembly propose eliminating the corrupt legislative pension system altogether for current part-time lawmakers?
Offered instead were mostly restrictions only on the ability of future lawmakers to participate in this modern-day gold rush.
Bills filed by Reps. David Floyd, R-Bardstown, and Steve Riggs, D-Louisville, and Sen. Tom Buford, R-Nicholasville, shut down the legislative retirement plan — but only for future lawmakers. All three propose denying pensions for those who take office after Aug.1, but offer nothing that would affect their own rich pensions.
Some of the proposed legislation would, at least, give current legislators the option of dropping out of the plan. (Incredulous, isn’t it, that such an “option” did not already exist?)
Floyd also proposes giving current lawmakers the option of not double dipping by allowing them to opt out of being enrolled in a second pension plan — the state workers’ pension fund — which automatically — that’s right, automatically — happens when politicians who have taken up eternal abode in Frankfort “max out” of their legislative pensions.
Why not just close these programs for current lawmakers, too? After all, how many part-time workers in Kentucky’s private sector receive fully funded pension and health-care benefits?
If dropping the curtains on this taxpayer scam seems like a radical idea, it’s only because of the tiresome drivel we hear from politicians bemoaning the fact that the job has become more than a part-time position.
We hear that the pension system is an “inviolable contract” that must be honored. But it’s only because the policymakers made it that way. And what they did, they can — and must — undo.
In fact, nine states do not provide legislative pensions, including California, Alabama and Louisiana, which have larger populations than Kentucky.
Floyd has also filed another bill that eliminates – but, again, only for new legislators elected after Aug. 1, 2013 — the practice of reciprocity in which politicians are allowed to use six-figure salaries from other government jobs to double their pensions.
While proposed legislation would eliminate certain unsavory practices for future lawmakers, it still allows past gold-digging politicians, including former Eastern Kentucky University vice president and former Rep. Harry Moberly, to enjoy a lush retirement on a beach somewhere — at the expense of Kentucky’s struggling taxpayers.
Watering down pension reform legislation also serves to placate legislative leaders in Frankfort, particularly in the House, where Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, looks forward to joining Moberly on that beach by using his oversized salary earned as Kentucky’s governor-bashing Attorney General.
Others looking forward to joining Moberly and Stumbo on that beach include Sen. Tim Shaughnessy, a Louisville Democrat, who recently resigned from the Legislature and will be cashing legislative pension checks of more than $103,000 annually.
Perhaps those who have filed bills that would restrict future legislators but are careful not to ruffle the feathers of their present legislative associates, have heard another cackle from “Macbeth’s” witches:
“Double, double, toil and trouble; Fire burn, and cauldron bubble!”
Editor’s note: Jim Waters is president of the Bluegrass Institute, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Reach him at email@example.com.