Penn-gate and pension payouts

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Pennsylvania taxpayers were cutting a big pension check to former Penn State University assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky even before he was charged with multiple counts of child molestation.

Joe Paterno, who was Sandusky’s boss while these alleged incidents occurred and failed to report eyewitnesses’ claims of abusive behavior to law-enforcement authorities, is in line for a pension of more than a half-million dollars a year. Whoa!

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Paterno had demonstrated a George Burns-like longevity, becoming a Nittany Lions’ assistant coach when Harry Truman was president and never leaving.

However, the long-time coach’s pension will not be indicative of his salary over the duration of his career. Rather, the formula used bases the size of his pension checks on the average salary of his three highest-paid years, including a whopping $568,000 this year.

Yet while neither Sandusky nor any of those involved in the sordid Penn State affair has been convicted, several Kentucky state politicians-turned-criminals from the past also continue to get taxpayer-funded pensions checks.

Operation Boptrot, a federal bribery probe, snared 10 percent of sitting legislators in 1992. Since the convictions occurred before KRS 6.696 was passed denying pensions to a lawmaker convicted of a felony “related to his duties as a legislator,” these former politicians remain eligible to pocket taxpayer-funded pensions.

Incredibly, even after these convictions, when the possibility of legislation denying future politicians- turned-criminals the opportunity to further milk taxpayers in the form of a public pension was first raised, Louisville state Sen. Tim Shaughnessy told the Associated Press that doing so would be “controversial.”

When a respected state senator claims that denying convicted politicians the opportunity to take further advantage of taxpayers would be “controversial,” it’s an indication that our political system has lost its moorings.

Some more recent developments involving Kentucky’s public-pension systems don’t offer hope that those moorings will be found anytime soon, either.

For example, most current state lawmakers from both parties voted to further enrich their own pensions back in 2005.

Instead of a reasonable approach that would base pensions on actual pay during total years of service, these politicians followed the “Paterno-Penn State Model” and sweetened their own pots by using only their top three years’ salary rather than a more reasonable in toto policy.

These recent actions have enabled other outrageous abuse of taxpayers’ dollars.

For instance, former and longtime Benton Rep. J.R. Gray served 26 years as a legislator before becoming the Labor Cabinet Secretary. Gray served just long enough in that position to ensure he would get his three years’ enriched pension before retiring in 2010.

Last year, Gray began collecting an estimated $136,500 pension – around $100,000 more than he was paid in his final year as a legislator. The 2005 bill combined with Gray’s three years in the labor cabinet will cost taxpayers an estimated $1.2 million in additional pension benefits.

Even politicians-turned-murderers remain on the dole.

Steve Nunn, a former legislator-turned-cabinet-official who was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for murdering his ex-fiancé, can begin drawing a $30,000 pension in November 2014.

Nunn, based on life expectancy, also will reap an estimated quarter-million more taxpayer dollars simply because he happened to work for a little more than a year in the Cabinet for Health and Family Services.

When the Boptrop investigations had concluded back in 1992, Shaughnessy said: “I’ll be perfectly honest with you. I think that we should do away with pensions for part-time people in government at all levels.”

But in the tradition of Frankfort’s crumbly political culture, Shaughnessy voted with the majority in 2005 to enhance the size of his own pension, which he will eventually collect after finishing his current term, which he has announced will be his finale.

At least they won’t be handing him his retirement check through bars.
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