Comer says he will abolish legislative pensions if elected as group again questions his 2005 vote

04/27/2015 05:30 PM

As a group supporting GOP gubernatorial hopeful Hal Heiner launched a second ad attacking Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer for his 2005 vote to enhance legislative pension benefits, the former state lawmakers says he will end the retirement plan if elected governor.

Citizens for a Sound Government, a pro-Heiner 501(c )(4) organization, began airing a 30-second spot titled “That Was Clearly A Bad Vote” in the Lexington and Bowling Green markets on Monday. The ad uses Comer’s response to a question on his vote for 2005’s House Bill 299, a law that allows lawmakers to factor any executive- or judicial-branch salaries toward their legislative pensions.

“When career politicians like James Comer vote to increase their taxpayer-funded pensions, they probably hope we won’t notice, especially when Kentucky is facing a massive pension shortfall,” a male narrator says in the ad.

CSG’s spot can be viewed here:

CSG’s ads against Comer and fellow GOP gubernatorial hopeful Matt Bevin have led both men to call on Heiner to renounce the spots, but he has declined, saying the ads in questions aren’t his. This is the second time the group has decried Comer’s vote on the 2005 pension bill.

Comer, speaking to media at a news conference at Bowman Field in Louisville on Monday, said he was caught in a “gotcha” moment when reporters asked him about the reciprocity bill, but he pledged to abolish legislative pensions if elected governor, noting he would be “the first former legislator to opt out” of a pension.

“My running mate has filed legislation every session to abolish legislative pensions,” said Comer, who added that he was a second-term representative and not vested in the system at the time of his vote. “We will pass that legislation if we’re elected governor and there will be an opt-out clause where any legislator who wants to opt out who’s vested can do that.”

“This is an attempt to change the issues,” he continued. “… I’m talking about how we can create jobs in this state, how we can make government more accountable, how we can make education more affordable for Kentuckians, how we develop our workforce in this state, so I hope that this election is about ideas and achievement and not about gotcha moments.”

Joe Burgan, spokesman for CSG, said Comer “voted to rip off the taxpayers in order to fatten politicians’ pensions, a vote so indefensible that his attempts to duck the issue and refusal to explain his vote grows more comical by the day.”

The gubernatorial candidate’s proposed push to end legislative pensions goes beyond the efforts of his running mate, state Sen. Chris McDaniel of Taylor Mill.

The first-term Republican lawmaker has only served as primary sponsor of one bill that would end pensions for senators and representatives during his three sessions in Frankfort. Even then, 2013’s Senate Bill 7 was amended in committee to include language that would shutter the retirement plan.

McDaniel co-sponsored by a bill stopping legislative pensions that year, and he has sponsored legislation in the previous two sessions that would allow lawmakers to opt out of the reciprocity provision created by 2005’s HB 299. In 2013, he was the sole sponsor of a bill with a one-time opt-out provision for legislative pensions.

Still, lawmakers would have been able to count salaries in other branches of government earned as of Jan. 1, 2014, toward their legislative pensions under the 2014 and 2015 bills.

McDaniel said Comer “encouraged” him to file the pension bills “because he felt like it was something that was important to Kentucky, to Kentuckians.”

“He supported me all the way,” McDaniel said. “I’m looking forward to us as a team being able to get this done when we move into the executive mansion.”


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