Courier-Journal | Group seeks public pension data

Findings from TUA’s pension project on Louisville, Kentucky, are featured in this article at the Courier-Journal.

Members of Taxpayers United of America, a national taxpayer watchdog group, made several stops in Kentucky Tuesday to spread their belief that the amount of pension payouts to individual government workers should be available for public scrutiny and that reform is needed to keep the system from going broke.

Christina Tobin, vice president of the organization that was founded by her father, one-time Illinois libertarian gubernatorial candidate Jim Tobin, said the public has a right to know pension costs just as government salaries are considered a public record.

Tobin also distributed a list of estimated pensions for some of Louisville metro government’s top officials, and a list of estimated state pension payouts.

The lists make a number of assumptions, such as each employee will retire after 30 years of service at age 52, have a cost of living increase of 2 percent per year, and that their current salaries are an average over several years.

Those assumptions make individual predictions invalid in most cases, but the list does show that some metro government employees can qualify for pensions as high as $168,000 a year under those conditions. State pensions on the list reach as high as $256,000 annually.

Tobin said that compares with an average annual wage of $45,000 in Kentucky.

“We are sensing taxpayers are not happy and they don’t think it’s fair,” Tobin said of the large pension payouts. “There needs to be transparency and reform.”

Specifically, the group wants to change the system so that individuals contribute more to their own pensions.

The Kentucky Retirement Systems board in November called for higher individual contributions to the state employee pension programs next year, even as lawmakers are not expected to fully fund benefits amid continuing budget problems. An independent actuary report to KRS trustees on Thursday showed that unfunded pension and insurance liabilities for the state have ballooned to more than $12 billion this fiscal year and that drastic increases in the state’s contribution rates are needed to fully fund retirement obligations in fiscal year 2012-13, which begins July 1.

Pension costs for municipal employees have risen dramatically in recent years, as well. But unlike the state system, city and county governments receive a bill every year that must be paid, which means that system is well funded.

Louisville paid about $70 million in pension costs this year.

Chris Poynter, a spokesman for Mayor Greg Fischer, agreed that the system needs to change.

“That’s a debate we at city government have been having for several years now,” Poynter said. “We’ve got to do something with pension costs, because cities can no longer afford the bill without significant cuts in other areas.”

Tobin said she hopes Kentucky’s legislature will change the law to make pension payments a public record, but said her group will launch a grass-roots campaign to try to force the issue if that doesn’t happen.

Currently, the public can only get information about individual pension payouts if the recipient agrees to allow the release of the information, Tobin said.

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