Thursday, August 29, 2013

Good News: Alaska NOT One Of 20 States Allowing Private Lobbyists To Draw Public Pensions

On August 25th, 2013, The Big Story reported that 20 states allow private lobbyists to draw public pensions. Many other media outlets re-published the story. But I found only two outlets, Forbes and ABC News, that actually listed the states, and I was pleased that Alaska is NOT one of them.

Here's the list, which includes red and blue states, coastal and heartland states, and religious (Utah) and non-religious states alike. Greed knows no party lines, religion, or geography. Reaction included where available:

-- Alabama
-- Arizona
-- California
-- Colorado
-- Idaho: Some Idaho lawmakers are now speaking out against the practice. One lawmaker said he's been examining the problem for years, but others profess surprise that it occurs.
-- Illinois: Developing legislation to prohibit private lobbyists from earning public pensions.
-- Kansas
-- Kentucky
-- Maine
-- Missouri
-- Nevada
-- New York: Although New York lawmakers decided years ago to bar any more lobbying and nonprofit groups in the pension system, they grandfathered eight groups, thus warranting inclusion on the list.
-- New Jersey: Developing legislation to prohibit private lobbyists from earning public pensions.
-- North Carolina
-- Pennsylvania: State Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R-Chester) now voices support for closing that loophole the next time the General Assembly takes up pension issues.
-- South Carolina
-- South Dakota
-- Tennessee: Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System spokesman Blake Fontenay disputes Tennessee's inclusion on the story, saying that his state is not bearing the costs for the pensions for these people, and that organizations that are part of TCRS are required to cover all of their own costs and assume all of their own liability for their retirees.
-- Utah
-- Washington

Michael Kink of the group Strong Economy for All Coalition deplores the hypocrisy of lobbyists who push austerity and benefit cuts for other government workers while they themselves enjoy solid state pensions. Keith Brainard, research director of the National Association of State Retirement Administrators, says there's liability for taxpayers, and adds that providing a pension benefit involves some amount of risk for the state and even more so when you provide access to employees of entities that are not in control of the state. Furthermore, unlike state government, these lobbyist groups aren't bound by salary restrictions, so significant salary increases would result in increasing pension benefits.

But associations of cities, counties and school boards argue that a plausible case can be made for allowing them to get state pensions. These quasi-government organizations primarily rely upon dues from their members -- local governments or school boards typically -- which are paid out of taxpayer-funded budgets. They argue they pool their resources to give a voice to government entities that serve taxpayers. They even go so far as to claim that the lobbyists are "carrying out missions assigned to them by public officials in the public interest as they understand it". In addition, Stephen Acquario, executive director and general counsel of the New York State Association of Counties -- who, as a $204,000-per-year lobbyist to the New York State Legislature, receives a full state pension -- argues that a state pension makes it easier to hire former state employees. So you have a fox trying to justify why he should guard the henhouse -- and get paid a premium wage for it.

And lobbyists who draw public pensions can end up with larger pensions than public employees. Most government pensions are calculated as a percentage of an employee’s last rate of pay. If a private lobbyist retires with a public pension with an ending salary larger than any state employee — Acquario, for example, makes more than Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D–NY) $179,000-a-year salary — the lobbyist will retire with a larger pension than any other employee.

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