Members of the Kentucky General Assembly do not have to disclose details of their legislative pensions, but a bill that passed unanimously in a Senate committee last week would change that.
Under the Kentucky Open Records Act, Senate Bill 45 would reveal the benefits paid to current and former lawmakers who are enrolled in the legislative pension system and other state retirement plans.
Knowledge is power, and we can’t help but be suspicious of the motives of any state lawmaker who wants to shield his or her public benefits from public disclosure.
One of those who opposes this bill is Rep. Brent Yonts, D-Greenville. He chairs the House State Government Committee and has in the past blocked bills dealing with pension transparency.
“My basic philosophy is, if you’re in public office or if you’re a public employee, then what you’re currently earning as salary should be public information, and it is,” Yonts said Wednesday, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader. “Once you’ve retired, though, what you draw from retirement benefits is nobody else’s business.”
We disagree. Lawmakers have the ability to craft laws that benefit them long after they’ve left the General Assembly, and the public has every right to know the practical details of those benefits.
It is simply wrong to prevent the public from knowing how a lawmaker benefits financially from their service in the General Assembly. Yonts ought to reconsider his position. Calls from his constituents might make that happen.
Sen. Chris McDaniel, R-Taylor Mill, who sponsors SB 45, said, “I think we’ll learn that the vast majority of people who retire don’t draw the kind of pensions that people think they do. But there are some select circumstances where people have done things the public would find egregious in terms of spiking benefits.”
In light of massive shortfalls in the pension system for state government employees and teachers, it is a huge disappointment to see some state lawmakers aren’t willing to be fully transparent about their own pension benefits.
The Herald-Leader reported that the legislative retirement plan has 71 percent of the money needed to cover benefits, but the Kentucky Employees Retirement System has less than 18 percent.
Some of Kentucky’s legislators have also worked in state government, and they’ve been able to use those jobs to significantly increase their retirement pay.
Often we look to the lessons of James Madison for guidance on open government. The fourth U.S. president said, “A popular government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives.”
Anyone who signs up for public service ought to respect the public’s right to know how they benefit financially from their powerful positions.
Yonts ought to advance transparency in the pensions lawmakers receive, and the General Assembly should pass this bill.
Kentucky New Era