The only focus of the Kentucky General Assembly’s recent special session was dealing with a crisis in the state’s pension system, and it appears we’re still no closer to a solution.
Of course, the entire pension system in Kentucky is in a crisis situation. This session, however, was intended to deal with a specific issue that had resulted in numerous state agencies, sometimes referred to as quasi-governmental agencies, being forced to double their pension contribution.
The costs sparked fears that some agencies could be forced to make steep cutbacks, and, in some cases, close.
Legislators approved House Bill 1 to deal with the issue. But we would argue that while the session may have ended, a resolution is far away.
The entire call for a special session was predicated on the passage or voting down of HB 1, Gov. Matt Bevin’s proposal for dealing with the crisis. After the session began, two other bills were proposed, but not approved, to rival Bevin’s plan.
Bevin and others celebrated the passage last Wednesday, while the measure’s detractors expressed concern, especially because of the part of the measure that allows each agency to decide whether to stay in the state’s retirement system.
But, to believe this is the end would be naive. Even before the session started, legislators, including Pike County delegation member, 93rd Dist. state Rep. Chris Harris, pointed out even before it had been passed that it would be challenged in the courts.
So now, far from having a clear picture of their responsibilities and options, those agencies are even further in confusion. Should they go ahead and act under the provisions of HB 1, knowing that a court could reverse it? Or should they just wait and take the risk?
The answers aren’t easy and both sides can likely lay out a persuasive argument.
But, the big concern is that what is happening in Frankfort is a near mirror image of what’s occurring on the national stage. Our federal legislators long ago figured out that they don’t have to cast votes on controversial measures or actually come up with a plan. They can simply pass whatever and let the U.S. Supreme Court parse it out.
It’s easier. It’s less messy. It doesn’t require compromise or reaching across the aisle. You just throw out a proposal that excites your base and hope the courts come down with an answer you can claim as a political victory.
We’re afraid that’s what is happening by default in Frankfort, if not by design.
The animus between the two parties and sometimes between various bodies of the legislature and the governor is growing year by year. While, in the past, being a successful legislator meant working with those who don’t share your political beliefs and sometimes working out compromise, in today’s political climate, it more often means simply crawling in your side’s foxhole and lobbing angry words at your opponent.
The whole reason this special session was required is that, despite all the warnings, all the talk, all the meetings, all the legislation, the state’s government has still failed to deal with the underlying issue — making Kentucky’s pension system fair to both the taxpayers and the government employees, and ensuring that the system remains solvent.
It’s not a new issue. It’s been before every legislator who sat in one of those seats in either the House, Senate or governor’s office. And each and every time, instead of making the hard choices, instead of working with those with whom they disagree, each side either ignored the problem or rammed a measure through that didn’t answer the problems, but simply “kicked the can down the road” for someone else to deal with.
The special session solved nothing. It may appear on the surface to have, but it really didn’t. We can’t even be sure that the measure will stand up to the almost likely judicial scrutiny to which it will be subjected.
And, because of that, the government employees and the taxpayers are no better off.
It’s time for that to change. It’s time for real action to be taken to fix this problem, once and for all, and that’s going to take everyone in Frankfort swallowing their pride, putting aside their differences and ideals and ultimately coming up with a solution that serves the people of the commonwealth.
That is the government’s job. Now it’s time to get to work.