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Kansas maintains secrecy around state pensions

By   /   March 4, 2013  /   1 Comment

By Travis Perry │ Kansas Watchdog

OSAWATOMIE — If you’ve ever registered a car in Kansas, your name is a matter of public record.

TOP SECRET: Kansas state statute has kept confidential the names of public pension recipients for nearly 40 years.

TOP SECRET: Kansas state statute has kept confidential the names of public pension recipients for nearly 40 years.

Ever paid a speeding ticket? Yep, that’s on file, too. And if you’re a public employee? Anyone can look up your paycheck.

But retire on the state’s dime, and you’ll never have to worry about anyone knowing — it’s the law.

Kansas statute has hidden the names of public pension recipients for nearly four decades. But while the law’s original intent was likely to shield retirees from scrutiny during their golden years, it has instead hidden an environment that has proven toxic in other states.

From a triple-dipping public official to former cops’ far-fetched disability claims, New Jersey Watchdog has turned a spotlight on pension problems in the garden state. The investigations were possible because New Jersey does not hide the names of individuals who retire on a public pension.

After Timothy Carroll and Thomas Rohling retired from the Morris County sheriff’s office under dubious disability claims, the pair went into business cleaning up crime scenes — while collecting more than $80,000 in annual state pension funds in the process.

And then there’s New Jersey state Sen. Frederick Madden Jr., who New Jersey Watchdog found out was collecting more than $241,000 a year in public salaries plus retirement pay.

Dave Trabert

Dave Trabert

Is something similar happening in Kansas? Kansas Policy Institute president Dave Trabert says absolutely, but current state law only serves to hide those individuals living large on the taxpayers’ dime.

“Taxpayers have a right to know how their money is being spent,” Trabert said. “They get that information on current employees, but they don’t get that on the pensions being paid out. There’s no good reason for shielding that information from taxpayers.”

Sunlight is the best disinfectant, and Trabert said the Kansas Public Employee Retirement System has been in the dark too long.

“The only way to know if there’s double dipping is to see the names of the people receiving pensions,” Trabert said.

State Rep. Steve Johnson, R-Assaria, initially told Kansas Watchdog he opposed making pension information available to the public, but changed his tune after hearing of the potential for abuse in the system.

“I’d be very open to looking at what I can do, and yes, I do think it would be helpful to be aware of where people are able to get a very comfortable pension and then go on to do something else related,” said Johnson, chair of the House Committee on Pension and Benefits.

Rep. Steve Johnson

Rep. Steve Johnson

But if you’re looking for a hard line either way on the matter, don’t look at the agency that actually runs the state pension program. As far as KPERS Executive Director Alan Conroy is concerned, they’re just following marching orders handed down by the Legislature.

“I think that’s certainly a public policy issue,” Conroy said. “That would be on the Legislature to deal with that and decide.”

Mike Marvin, executive director of the Kansas Organization of State Employees, said there is a distinct difference between a paycheck and a pension, and added that he doesn’t believe the public is hurt by withholding identifiable information.

“Do you want to release what your retirement is? People have a right to privacy,” Marvin said.

Contact Travis Perry at travis@kansaswatchdog.org, or follow him on Twitter at @muckraker62.

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Travis Perry is an investigative reporter covering news and politics for Watchdog.org's Kansas bureau. Before joining the organization, Travis graduated cum laude from Washburn University and cut his teeth as news editor for the Osawatomie Graphic, where he received numerous awards from the Kansas Press Association.

  • libertyandfreedom

    KPERS pensions, I suspect, are vastly higher than equivalently paid private taxpaying employees receive. Government pensions have a history of very generous benefits. Disclosure to the taxpayer should be required.