December 6, 2013

Judge’s pay gives Stein gold-plated pension

When Gov. Beshear appointed state Sen. Kathy Stein, D-Lexington, to a judgeship in Fayette County in October it tripled her legislative pension by nearly $900,000. The windfall is the result of a little noticed bill when it was enacted in 2005 (HB 299) that allows legislators to switch salaries when calculating their legislative pension.

The three factors in a legislator’s pension formula are (1) salary, (2) years of service and (3) 2.75 percent. Thanks to the 2005 law, which legislative leaders — Republicans and Democrats — sneaked through the legislative process, Stein is able to use her judge’s salary of $124,618 instead of her pay as a legislator, which was $40,668. Stein did not vote on the bill.

Using the higher salary triples her legislative pension, and, based on a Social Security Life Expectancy Table, gives her a lifetime gain of an estimated $888,174 … on top of her regular legislative pension.

Stein is not the only one who left the General Assembly enriched from the 2005 bill. To name a few, former Rep. Harry Moberly, D-Richmond, quit with a legislative pension of at least $168,686 a year; former Rep. J.R. Gray, D-Benton, left with a legislative pension of about $136,500 a year; and when former Rep. James Comer resigned to take the oath as commissioner of agriculture it was a moment that spiked his legislative pension at least $467,369. Moberly, Gray and Comer in 2005 voted in favor of the self-enrichment.

Moberly and Gray also have a second pension in KERS, the pension system for state employees, in which they were enrolled automatically as a legislator once they “maxed out” in the legislators’ pension system, thanks to a 1998 law change that hardly anyone knows about.

So, Moberly’s government pensions for being a legislator is around $180,000 a year — and he almost surely has a third pension from his private-sector employer, Eastern Kentucky University, that puts him well over $200,000 a year from three government pensions.

Gray also has a second pension in KERS, under the 1998 law, putting his two government pensions at around $150,000 a year.

The list of super-rich pension (courtesy of the taxpayers) for a part-time as a legislator is long and growing. Reps. Bob Damron and Sen. Walter Blevins have announced they are running for county judge-executive next year — a move that would more than double their legislative pensions. Look for more legislators to run for judge-executive.

Pension abuse is embedded in the culture, especially in Frankfort. It is common for people in the capitol city to be drawing “two and three” pensions.

Oh, did I fail to say the pension system for state employees is so broke it’s on life-support, and that pension costs are crowding out essential government services?