by Adam Beam, Associated Press –
FRANKFORT, Ky. – Kentucky state Sen. Chris McDaniel’s constituents know that he’s contributed $5,575.79 to his state retirement account, that it has collected $104.38 in interest and that it has a balance of $5,680.17.
But that’s only because McDaniel requested a copy of his statement and posted it to his Facebook page in November.
For the 137 other members of the Kentucky General Assembly, the public is in the dark about how much they are specifically earning in retirement benefits subsidized with taxpayer money. It’s the same for all former state lawmakers who are collecting a pension or still accruing benefits through other state jobs.
While all state legislators’ salaries are public information, Kentucky is among the few states that restrict information about lawmakers’ pensions.
The public in Kentucky cannot get a comprehensive list of pension recipients; it can only request information by name. State law allows the public to know a legislator’s years of service, highest three years of salary and the formula for calculating benefits.
That is enough information to at least get an idea of how much lawmakers earn in retirement benefits, said Donna Early, executive director of the Kentucky Judicial Form Retirement System, which oversees the legislative pension fund. Early said the fund provides more information than any of the state’s other public retirement systems.
But McDaniel called the setup “far too secretive.”
“We have to take votes on these pension plans and we have to take votes on bills,” said McDaniel, who opted out of the legislative system but is a member of the Kentucky Employees Retirement System. “It is important for people to understand who may or may not have financial gain to be made with the votes that they take.”
Last year, Kentucky taxpayers contributed $3.3 million to the system that covers 343 current and former lawmakers and their beneficiaries. Lawmakers themselves contributed $216,000.
Public access to details about the retirement benefits of legislators and other government employees varies by state. Court rulings in Colorado and New York have said public pension benefits are confidential. A 2013 court ruling in Texas said state lawmakers’ benefits could not be made public.
On the flip side, courts in New Hampshire and Nevada have made lawmakers’ retirement benefits open to the public.
In Kentucky, McDaniel has sponsored legislation that would make current and former state lawmakers’ retirement benefits available under open records requests. The bill unanimously passed the Republican-controlled Senate in January but has met with skepticism in the Democratic-controlled House.
“Information about an individual’s assets should be private after they leave the system,” said Democratic Rep. Brent Yonts, who, as chairman of the House committee in charge of vetting the bill, will decide if it makes it to the House floor.
Yonts said he plans to give the bill a public hearing. He would not say how he would vote on it.
One of several stories by The Associated Press, McClatchy and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel marking Sunshine Week, an annual celebration of access to public information.