December 2nd, 2020
Cincinnati.com | Anti-tax group targets N.Ky. public employee pensions
The Chicago-based Taxpayers United of America looked at employees of Boone County, Kenton County, the counties’ school districts and Florence. The group’s vice president, Christina Tobin, used a press conference on Tuesday at the Courtyard by Marriott to accuse Covington officials of refusing to provide salary information for their current employees.
Covington City Solicitor Frank Warnock said he provided the group a list of city positions and the salaries for those jobs. He said the city didn’t put names to its more than 300 positions. Warnock said to create such a list would be time-consuming and not necessarily required under state open records law.
He called the group’s press conference “manufactured drama.”
“This is like hitting somebody below the belt,” Warnock said of the group’s criticism of the city.
He said the group employs “low rent” ways to draw attention to its cause instead of trying to work with government officials to solve problems.
Tobin admitted county and municipal governments do not make the rules that determine pension benefits but that her group wanted to bring attention to million-dollar pensions to a local level. She said people hear about huge unfunded pension liabilities but it is hard for them to comprehend until they see the size of the pension for their child’s fourth-grade teacher, elementary school principal or police officer.
The group is lobbying for an end to guaranteed lifetime pensions for government employees. Instead, Tobin said all new public workers should be enrolled in private savings plans, like a 401(k), and they should work until later in life, as private sector employees do.
Taxpayers don’t even know for certain who gets what because Kentucky law requires that public pension records be kept confidential. To get the estimates it released, the group used publicly available government salaries and applied the formulas of several public pension funds. It ended up with educated guesses that could be skewed by assumptions, such as how long someone works in a government job.
Government pensions have been controversial in Kentucky in recent years. The state’s public pension funds face a collective unfunded liability of close to $30 billion, among the nation’s worst. The state and local governments expect to plow hundreds of millions of additional dollars into those pension funds in coming years.
In response to the group’s press conference, Gov. Steve Beshear released a statement highlighting changes to the pension system for new employees designed toward getting the systems to full funding.
“We are confident that by following those guidelines, the pension system will remain stable,” Beshear said.
Tobin said Kentucky residents will not know if “their house is in order” until the state makes pension records open for public inspection.
According to the group’s estimates, the highest annual pension in Boone County government is $85,816 and 24 other employees will all get more than $43,000 per year. In Kenton County government, the the top 25 pension earners range from $33,000 to $74,000.
Fifty teachers in Boone and Kenton counties will each get more than $50,000, according to the group.
In Florence, 25 employees will get annual pensions of more than $47,000, according to the group, and that the city’s top pension earner will get nearly $66,000 annually.
By contrast, residents in Boone and Kenton counties have an average wage of $40,000 and $43,000, respectively, and outside of government jobs, few people can expect to get pensions, the group claims.
“Boone and Kenton county government pension systems are making millionaires out of public employees at taxpayer expense,” Tobin said. “Although some reforms have been made to the Kentucky government employee pension systems, additional reform is critical.”