Candidate could reap millions in pension windfall

Published 9:19 pm Friday, May 17, 2019


Guest columnist

The primary election is upon us, turnout will be low;

Email newsletter signup

For those who vote Democratic, there’s something you should know:

Much is at stake in your primary, perhaps more than meets the eye;

Rocky Adkins really wants to be governor, did you ever wonder why?

Adkins, a Democratic representative from Sandy Hook — which got its name from the fishhook-shaped bend in the Little Sandy River where the community settled in the 1820s in what is now Elliott County — wants to hook enough voters to escape Tuesday’s gubernatorial primary against Attorney General Andy Beshear and former Auditor Adam Edelen, his more-progressive opponents.

While Adkins probably has altruistic reasons for wanting Kentucky’s top political job, he also has an added incentive not available to his opponents: the ability to spike his legislative pension and become a millionaire twice over, courtesy of the taxpayers.

Legislation passed in 2005 allows lawmakers receiving part-time pay while in the General Assembly to be appointed or elected to a full-time position in state government and apply the highest three years of salary to their legislative pension, even though their work was in, say, the executive branch.

Lawmakers’ pensions are based on the average of their three highest-salary years multiplied by their years of service and a benefit factor, which is 2.75 percent for legislators who became members of the legislative pension system after 1982, including Adkins, who first came to the legislature in 1987.

Should Adkins serve four more years in the legislature — at which time he will have “maxed out” of the legislators’ retirement plan by reaching the point where his pension benefits equal 100 percent of his legislative pay — he would retire with an annual legislative pension of less than $32,000, according to an analysis of lawmakers’ salaries reported by the Legislative Research Commission.

However, Adkins winning the gubernatorial election would be Kentucky’s political version of James Holzhauer’s performance on Jeopardy, where the contestant-phenom has already pocketed $1.7 million, which is nearly what the longtime lawmaker would receive in additional pension benefits during his expected lifetime were he to become governor.

What is pension pork, anyone?

Because of House Bill 299 passed in 2005, Adkins would be allowed to use the highest three years of salary he would earn as governor to spike his legislative pension — from less than $32,000 to nearly $140,000, based on an average of the governor’s salary during the past three years.

Adkins’ legislative pension, which would spike by nearly $108,000 after his first term as governor, would be even higher should he win reelection.

Were this guitar-picking politician from the east to serve two terms as governor, his pension would rival the chief executive’s current salary of nearly $149,000.

But let’s not get too optimistic here about his political chances; voters still must decide.

Conservatively, if Adkins were to serve a single term as governor and then retire, he would — based on life-expectancy tables for a white male born on Nov. 4, 1959, which this year happens to fall on the day before the General Election — reap a lifetime windfall of nearly $2 million in additional pension benefits than had he retired from the legislature.

No wonder HB 299 was known as “the greed bill.”

Ridding Kentucky of this corrupt reciprocity-enabling scourge was part of omnibus pension legislation struck down by the Kentucky Supreme Court in December.

That should not prevent legislative leaders from correcting this egregious policy in a separate bill during the first week of the 2020 session of the General Assembly, even if — especially if — Adkins is governor.

Jim Waters is president and CEO of the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. He can be reached at and @bipps on Twitter.