If you are one of the people who believes in taxpayer-funded pensions for elected officials, you could just continue to ante up and sit this debate out.
But me? I’m reconsidering after reading a Kansas City Star editorial that references Kansas state Sen. Rob Olson, R-Olathe, who told his colleagues: “I don’t believe it’s the taxpayer’s role to fund a pension for us.”
Quoted in the Topeka Capital-Journal during debate, Olson said: “When I hear us talk about KPERS (Kansas Public Employees Retirement System) all the time, I hear us talking about ourselves.”
Pensions are common in the private sector. I don’t have a problem with pensions for unelected civil servants, as long as they are funded and managed in line with what the jurisdiction can afford. Governments in Illinois have struggled with that, lately.
I have absolutely no problem with compensating our elected officials while they are serving us. But why in Idaho, across the country and in Congress have we elected to keep paying them when they retire?
It’s anybody’s guess when and where the first elected official got enrolled in a pension plan. I guess the idea is that pensions are a perk added to the modest pay of part-time legislators.
I understand that over time, and especially recently, employees (and that includes elected officials) are paying a larger percentage into their pension funds. But as The Kansas City Star asked: Why not ditch the pension idea and just raise the pay so people are compensated for the time they serve? What happened to running for office and being elected as “serving,” as a “privilege?” Whatever became of the wistful thoughts of the Founding Fathers that colonial merchants and farmers would serve in Congress for a term or two, and then go home to their shops and their plows?
What role do you think getting a pension plays in the re-election decisions of incumbents — who almost always win another term? I have to think the pension piggy bank plays into the decision and is certainly part of the reason we have the so-called “elected class” of professional politicians.
I don’t feel so good about the GOP senators who stonewalled U.S. Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland last year. I don’t feel any better about the Democratic senators who gave Justice Neil Gorsuch the partisan stink eye. Everyone in Congress contributes a percentage to their individual pensions (in some cases more than other federal employees), but I feel badly that during these Senate tantrums and other dust-ups, we are helping pad pensions.
Senators and House members qualify for pensions after five years of service, so senators can become eligible in just one term. According to a November 2016 report compiled by the Congressional Research Service:
▪ Members of Congress are eligible for a pension at the age of 62 with five years of service. Members are eligible for a pension at age 50 if they have completed 20 years of service, and at any age after completing 25 years of service.
▪ Congressional pensions depend on years of service and the average of the highest three years of salary. The starting amount of a member’s retirement can’t exceed 80 percent of his or her final salary ($174,000 today).
▪ There were 620 retired members of Congress receiving federal pensions based fully or in part on their congressional service as of Oct. 1, 2015. Of this number, 344 had retired under the Civil Service Retirement System and were receiving an average annual pension of $74,136. A total of 276 members had retired with service under the Federal Employees Retirement System and were receiving an average annual pension of $41,316 in 2015.
I will sleep better at night knowing people are beginning to ask the right questions and do the right thing. Last year, for instance, the Rock Island County, Ill., Board of Supervisors voted (as a cost-saving action) to remove themselves from eligibility for pensions.
And then there’s Olson in Kansas, whose idea to scrap pensions was rejected this year. He said he intends to bring it up again in 2018. “I’d be willing to stop (my pension) today,” he said.