The hot button topic in Frankfort these days is pension. But if you really want to ruffle the feathers of a public employee, just say “Legislators’ Retirement Plan.” That will get the blood of even the most deferential public employee boiling. And rightfully so, especially when you see the funding level of KERS Non‐Hazardous is 13.6 percent and the LRP is at 110.24 percent. Public employees across the state should be angry, very angry.
Who is to blame for the discrepancy between funding levels? What will you “Remember this November?” Well the first one could be a difficult question, but what you remember should be more long term than this tense session we are currently experiencing. There are multiple contributing factors, but let’s focus on the topic at hand, the legislators themselves.
It’s easy to shift the blame to the Republican majority but, let’s be honest, are they really the problem? There were 16 new Republican members of the House alone during the last election, not to mention any new Democrats and any turnover there may have been in the Senate. No, the problems still lie with the long‐term career politicians that have been there for years.
Let’s look at a few bills to stir up your memory.
The 2005 “greed bill” HB299 enacted by a Democratic majority House allows the legislator to have their high three from salaries from other government held positions either before or after their time in the General Assembly. This means the likes of Greg Stumbo (D) and James Comer (R) will have quite the retirement. Four of the seven sponsors, all Democrats, are still in office - Charles Miller, Perry Clark (now a senator), Dennis Horlander, and Joni Jenkins. This bill passed the house with 48 votes; 30 Democrats, including my opponent Derrick Graham, and 18 Republicans.
The legislators made the right decision when passing SB3 in 2017, which effectively required the disclosure of projected or actual retirement benefit of any member of the General Assembly. There was only one no vote in the entire House and Senate - Rep. Derrick Graham. Just a year prior a similar bill didn’t pass, but Rep. Graham was sure to vote no in the committee on it as well (SB45 2016).
What about previous budget bills? I can only speak to Rep. Graham’s voting record on those. He voted for the budgets in 2006 and 2010 in their final version, and in 2008 and 2012, he voted for them when they left the House. I can’t say why he voted against the final bill when it came back from the Senate, but I can tell you this, the employer contribution percentage to the pension funds didn’t change in those two versions. He might have other reasons, but your pension wasn’t one of them. I can’t seem to find the 2004 vote on the LRC website. I believe we didn’t pass a budget until 2005. When Rep. Graham went into office, we were near surplus with the pension funds.
So now, to me. Recently I had a comment made on my candidate Facebook page. I was challenged to sign an agreement saying I will fight for state employees and teachers to keep their retirement and to file legislation to put legislators in the KRS system. My mother is a state employee. Can you imagine the conversations I would be subject to if I did something to upset my own mother? With that in mind, and because it is the right thing to do, my answer is yes. I will sign an agreement stating the following:
· I will not support any proposal that reduces the monthly take home pay of current retirees.
· I will not support any proposal to reduce COLA to retired teachers
· I will file legislation to have the Judicial Form Retirement Plan placed in KRS. I can’t make promise of passage, but I would settle for all newly elected Legislators and Judges to be placed in the KRS system. (This assumes no one else files a similar bill before me)
· I will even one up you. According to KRS 6.500, newly elected legislators must elect to participate in the LRP within 30 days or they shall participate in the Kentucky Employee Retirement System. I will be vested in the KERS by choice and my motivation to save the system will be due to my participation in the same system as the majority of my community here in Frankfort.
When you head to the voting booth this November, remember these promises, and remember that they aren’t ones Derrick Graham is making. Vote smart, not with your heart. Your pension is a promise, and it is one I intend to keep.
Calen Studler is a Republican candidate for District 57 State Representative.
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