Today’s post is written by Andrew Collier, Communications Director at NPPC.
Over the years, many states have enacted laws that make public employee retirees’ pension benefits public information. Every retired public employee, from your high school custodian, school superintendents, to college football coaches have their pension benefits out there in the open for all to see. Although there can be major disparities among how much individuals receive it can also fuel pension envy.
Growing up in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, every year our local paper, the Lancaster New Era, would publish the top one-hundred pension beneficiaries in the county. Although, this list was mostly made up of former college professors, school superintendents, and other high earners, it fed the narrative that all pension beneficiaries make too much in retirement, which as we know is not true. According to NIRS and AARP, the average pensioner in Pennsylvania earns a modest $25,299 per year – clearly not a member of what is commonly referred to as the $100k club.
But that’s not what people see. Instead they see and make the assumption that all pensioners are earning this much in retirement, which couldn’t be further from the truth. Then, readers of the newspaper may think, “I don’t get a pension, so public employees shouldn’t get one either.” This is pension envy.
This year in Kentucky, the Bluegrass Institute, which fancies itself a think tank, released a list of lawmakers who signed onto a pledge to make the pension benefits of all public employees publicly available after open records requests. Currently, Kentucky law states that public employee benefits are exempt from open records requests. The Kentucky Public Pension coalition, NPPC’s in-state affiliate, correctly argues that making this information publicly available will only make public employee retirees susceptible to scams. It will also allow pension opponents to nitpick the highest earners in the state to push their narrative that reform is necessary, when in actuality, the average pension benefit in Kentucky is only $23,791 per year.
Instead of turning worker against worker over public employee retirees’ modest pensions, Kentucky lawmakers should check themselves and the amount of money they give away to corporations each year through subsidies. In fact, Kentucky is one of the only states that still subsidizes the use of coal to make electricity – to the tune of $75.4 million every single year.
States should not only want to protect the financial information of their residents and retired public employees, they should not play into the pension envy narrative.