LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- In 2012, former Gov. Steve Beshear persuaded his longtime political nemesis David Williams to leave the state legislature by appointing Williams to a vacant judgeship in his hometown of Burkesville.
At the time, Williams – the former Republican president of the state Senate – denied speculation that he took the judgeship to goose his taxpayer-funded legislative pension by using the judicial salary of about $125,000 a year.
Records released under a new state law confirm that Williams passed on the chance to inflate his pension – even though he supported a 2005 change that gave him and other lawmakers the option to do so.
“For me, it wasn’t the right to do,” Williams, 63, said in a phone interview Friday.
Williams collects a $56,728-a-year pension based on his 25 years in the state legislature, according to information released by the Kentucky Judicial Form Retirement System to WDRB.
After about four years as a judge, Williams is eligible for another $12,280-per-year pension based on his judicial service, according to the information released Friday. Williams was elected to a full eight-year term in 2014.
Williams said he could have received a combined pension of $112,000 a year had he waited to take his legislative pension and retired two years ago after serving out the judicial term to which he was appointed by Beshear.
But because he decided not to do that, Williams could work as a judge until he is 77 and still not get the pension he could have started taking already, he said.
“My accountant told me I was crazy,” Williams said.
Williams said if he serves out his term on the bench until 2022, he expects to receive about $90,000 a year in combined legislative and judicial pensions. By contrast, he could have collected $140,000 a year, he said, had he served until 2022 and used his legislative service to enhance his judicial pension.
(To be sure, that option would have required him to defer the $56,728 in legislative pension until retiring from the judiciary).
Though he declined to “spike” his pension, Williams defended the 2005 change in the law that gave him the option to do so.
He said local officials like county judge-executives and magistrates had previously been reluctant to run for House and Senate seats because they couldn’t combine the local and legislative service for pension purposes.
“It was intended to allow people to come into the legislature,” Williams said.
Lawmakers’ state-funded pensions have become public information for the first time under a law Gov. Matt Bevin signed on Saturday.
Sen. Chris McDaniel, a Republican from Northern Kentucky, has long championed the measure. In previous years, it failed to advance in the Democrat-controlled House. Republicans now have control of both chambers.
The Lexington Herald-Leader reported Friday that former Rep. Harry Moberly – who served for more than 30 years and later became executive vice president of Eastern Kentucky University -- tops the list of current and former lawmaker pensions with an annual benefit of $154,912.
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