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Blevins may hit pension jackpot as judge-executive

By JIM WATERS The Bluegrass Institute

By JIM WATERS

The Bluegrass Institute

What some candidates could gain in this year's election - beyond just winning office - is a stark reminder of how wrong political leaders were when declaring last year that they had adequately addressed Kentucky's public pension crisis.

Instead, legislators with serious courage deficiencies failed to agree on reforms beyond what they believe are "politically feasible."

While the Legislature did place future public workers in a hybrid cash balance plan, they didn't ensure significant savings would accrue by also limiting expenditures, including benefit creep - a huge contributor to the Kentucky Retirement System's ailments.

Lawmakers also failed to touch the system's most immoral practice - allowing its incumbent members to personally benefit from voting for a pension-spiking bill.

Kentucky Roll Call publisher Lowell Reese estimates state taxpayers will fork over $735,000 in additional - yes, additional - legislative pension benefits to Sen. Walter Blevins Jr., D-Morehead, if he wins this year's election for Rowan County judge-executive.

A review of Blevins' three decades in Frankfort - he was first elected in the early 1980s when Hall and Oates' "Maneater" was a hit song - reveals a penchant for being a "taxpayer-eater," and not just because of the big expense tabs he's run up in what the commonwealth's founders created as a part-time position. (The Morehead News reports that Blevins in 2012 was reimbursed nearly $40,000 for expenses alone in addition to his salary. Hey, it's a great gig if you can get it.)

Blevins is hoping to get an even better taxpayer-funded engagement as judge-executive. If he ultimately wins the seat, state law requires him to resign his Senate seat before taking the oath of office as a county official.

I doubt he'll mind.

Along with pocketing an $87,000 salary, Blevins will be enrolled in the County Employees Retirement System, which will make him a triple dipper as he then will be collecting taxpayer-funded pension checks from not one, not two, but three of Kentucky's six public retirement funds.

This is how it works for Blevins:

n He's been in the legislature so long that he's "maxed out" on his legislative pension, meaning he reached the threshold where that pension would be 100 percent of his pay - about $41,000 annually - as a state politician.

n When he "maxed out" his legislative pension, Blevins was automatically enrolled in a second pension system, the Kentucky Employees Retirement System. Despite the fact that the KERS is in danger of becoming insolvent, part-time politicians like Blevins still get thousands of additional dollars throughout their lifetime just from this pension system alone.

However, if you think taxpayers are getting off the hook with a $41,000 pension check here or a $5,000 retirement check there, then you might consider, as Hall and Oates wondered: "What do you think you're getting for free?"

House Bill 299 passed in 2005 would allow Blevins, should he win, to figure his legislative pension based on his judge-executive salary rather than limiting it to what he raked in during his General Assembly tenure. Reese notes that taxpayers as a result would shell out twice as much in legislative pension benefits for Blevins than if HB 299 had not passed.

The worst part: Blevins was one of 30 state senators who voted for that pension-padding policy, making him a personal - and greedy - beneficiary of his own vote.

If you combine all of Blevins' pension checks, should he win the judge-executive's race, taxpayers will fill this one politician's golden parachute with nearly $1 million - just because he managed to hang around for so long.

Hall and Oates crooned about a "she-cat" that they were "watching and waiting, oh-oh, here she comes."

We're "watching and waiting," too: to see if they, the voters, "come" - and become - "self-serving politician-eaters."

Jim Waters is president of the Bluegrass Institute, Kentucky's free market think tank.

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