Legislative pensions should end, Ag Commish Comer says; Announces movement with hemp commission

10/25/2012 10:34 PM

Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, who served 11 years as a Republican state legislator, said lawmakers should end their pension program.

Comer, in making the statements on Thursday’s edition of Pure Politics, becomes the highest ranking state official to call for ending the legislative pension system, which has become a flashpoint in this year’s legislative elections.

Comer acknowledged that legislators’ pensions are “a drop in the bucket” compared to the total debt in the retirement system fund for all state employees. But he said it’s a symbolic move that sets the tone that lawmakers are serious about tackling the $30 billion unfunded liability in the Kentucky Retirement Systems.

“What I think we should do is just go back and the legislators that have paid in it, like myself, over the years, just reimburse them what they’ve paid into it and end it,” said Comer, a Tompkinsville native who represented the 53rd House District before being elected Agriculture Commissioner last year (at 6:40 of the interview).

“I think it should be abolished and I will set the example,” he said. (at 7:30).

Comer was among the lawmakers who voted in 2005 for a bill that ultimately allowed legislators who switched to higher-paying government jobs to get fatter pension checks. The provision, known as “reciprocity,” allowed them to count their years of service with the higher pay that came with their new government job, such as a judgeship or officer like agriculture commissioner. Comer makes more than $110,000 as agriculture commissioner — about four times what he earned as a state representative.

Comer said he and will work with Republican state Sen. Damon Thayer of Georgetown to “fix that problem.” (Find out what else he says needs to be done with pensions starting at 5:30 of the interview).

Comer also announced movement with the Kentucky Industrial Hemp Commission. Former state Rep. Joe Barrows resigned as chairman of the long-dormant commission on Wednesday, paving the way for Comer to take the helm of the commission when it meets for the first time in years on Nov. 14.

Comer also said the commission, which will be supported by staff from the Agriculture Department, is lining up private donors to cover its costs.

“We are not going to ask for any tax dollars, we are not going to ask for any tax incentives, we are not going to ask for any tobacco settlement funds. We believe this industry would be so profitable and so vital to the future growth of our economy in Kentucky that we believe it will stand on its own feet” (at 1:30).

Watch the interview segment above for more details about the goals and direction of the industrial hemp commission, which Comer says is laying the groundwork for the day when the federal government relaxes its restrictions on growing the plant.


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