Martin Hawver
Guest columnist
It’s open season on legislators—or at least their pensions—in the upcoming legislative session.
Many Kansans represented by those legislators will be demanding that legislators pare the relatively nice pensions they pay for themselves—that’s vote against themselves.
Now, it’s hard to say where the flap came from. Mostly, we suspect,  from people who don’t run for the Legislature and who don’t lose maybe six months of their lives a year—in session and out of session counting summer study groups, campaigning, holding community meetings, taking constituent calls all year long.
Or maybe it is from people whose favorite candidate lost the election or who just aren’t fans of government and the people who make laws and authorize taxes, or speed limits or concealed carry regulations or, well, something else.
Interesting little issue here, popular to talk about at parties, at rallies—and an issue which will show up on campaign materials next year.
The real issue? Though there’s a 90-day session for which legislators are paid $88.66 a day and $123 a day in expenses for food and drink they can’t find a lobbyist to supply during those 90 days, while most of them are away from their homes, for pension purposes, that pay is “annualized.”
Annualized means the base salary of about $8,000 becomes $32,981 for computing pension. Salary plus session expense pay totaling about $19,000 becomes $78,737 for pension purposes. Add in the off-session expenses compensation of $7,000, and you get a potential $85,800 on which pensions are computed.
But, legislators don’t get those pensions for free. They (all but those who were first elected after 2009) have a choice. Pay $50 from each biweekly paycheck for a pension based just on daily salary, $61 for pensions based on daily pay plus session expenses and $132 for the full boat, including everything toward their pension calculation.
Their pensions? Depending on what they’ve paid for, and with 10 years of service—that’s being re-elected four times for House members, and twice for Senate members—the pensions range from $480 a month to $1,251 a month.
If those legislators hold their seats for 20 years, the numbers rise to a range of $961 to $2,503 a month.
The key, of course, is that legislators have to be doing a pretty good job for their constituents to get elected and re-elected until they’ve served 20 years in the Legislature. If you elect and re-elect someone that many times, well, most of us would figure that he/she has done a good job and it’s hard to begrudge those folks their pensions, isn’t it?
That means they not only have to vote in their constituents’ best interests, but literally, because they return to their home communities for most of the year, they have to be on their best behavior, whether they’re going to the store for milk or gin or bargaining for their next car. (And, who knows what happens to a Lawrence legislator who is seen by constituents buying anything containing high fructose corn syrup? They probably won’t last long enough to get a pension, anyway.)
And, there are stories—what’s one less than a horror story?—about legislators having to answer school finance questions for constituents while the ice cream softens in their shopping carts.
Too much pension? Maybe for that other guy’s legislator, but if you like what your legislator has been able to do for you—or protect you from—it’s probably not a bad deal.
Syndicated by Hawver News Company LLC of Topeka; Martin Hawver is publisher of Hawver’s Capitol Report—to learn more about this statewide political news service, visit the website at www.hawvernews.com