Newspaper: Kentucky Pension System is Public Business

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Pension360 covered the push last week by several Kentucky lawmakers to make the state’s pension system more transparent.

But at least one lawmaker wasn’t on board with those plans. House State Government Committee Chairman Brent Yonts had this to say about his colleagues’ proposals, which included public disclosure of pension benefits, management fees, and other data:

“Frankly, I don’t think that’s the public’s business,” Yonts said. “They have access to the public payroll and salary information. They can theorize about what we’re going to collect in pensions. But the public is not entitled to know every last little thing about us.”

The Lexington-Herald Leader editorial board weighed in on the issue on Wednesday. The newspaper’s stance: public pensions should be public business. From the editorial:

Rep. Brent Yonts, D-Greenville, is certainly right that the public “is not entitled to know every little thing about us.”

We don’t need to know Yonts’ blood pressure or where he gets his hair done, or which, if any, bourbon he likes to sip of an evening.

But taxpayers are entitled to know how much he and every other state employee will receive from our public pension systems.

Yonts, chairman of the House State Government Committee, made his “every little thing” remark while explaining his opposition to two bills — prefiled for the upcoming session — that would increase transparency in the beleaguered public retirement systems.

Specifically, Yonts thinks the public just doesn’t have the right to know how much retirees are drawing in public pension benefits.

“Frankly, I don’t think that’s the public’s business,” he told reporter John Cheves.

It is all the public’s business: How much people draw and how much the retirement systems pay hedge fund managers and other investment advisers.

Right now the largest of these funds, the Kentucky Employees Retirement System, which covers workers in non-hazardous jobs, is at a perilous 21-percent funding level. That means it has only about one in five of the dollars it is obligated to pay out.

This has happened for several reasons, undoubtedly the most important being that governors and the General Assembly have balanced too many budgets by forgoing the state’s annual match to the money paid in by employees. That’s a breach of promise and an unconscionable slap at state workers.

[…]

And, then there’s the $55 million that the retirement systems paid to investment managers with very little disclosure about what we got for that money.

It’s impossible to fix Kentucky’s public pension mess without laying all the cards on the table. How much do the spikers, double-dippers and well-retired lawmakers cost the system? No one knows, or if they do they’re not telling. How are the investment advisers’ fees set and what do we get for them?

Yonts and public employees who say retirement benefits are none of our business should get over it.

Employees are absolutely right that they took jobs and paid into the retirement system on the belief the money would be there.

But taxpayers funded those salaries and will pay the lion’s share of the bill to solve the pension mess. They have the right to know every little thing.

The full editorial can be read here.

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