Time for Bevin to start leading on the pension crisis

Published 10:35 am Friday, September 29, 2017

It is not at all clear that Gov. Matt Bevin has a sense of irony; but if he does, he certainly put it to work in one of his recent Facebook videos.

Taking on again one of his favorite targets, the media (blame the messenger) Bevin launched into a diatribe against “trying to create panic and dissension.”

Whoa, governor, look in the mirror.

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Dissension? You are the person who has demonized teachers and other public employees, suggesting they are gaming the retirement system by storing up sick days, are unfaithful to their work because they might consider retiring early to preserve benefits, or simply greedy. You’ve characterized those who came before you in the pension story as everything from incompetent to irresponsible to criminal.

Panic? You have held your thumb down on the “crisis” button on public pensions, including those that are relatively well funded, and now you’ve added a state budget firestorm to the mix.

Despite a refreshing commitment when you came into office almost two years ago to face down the problems in Kentucky’s public pensions and solve them using fiscal discipline and more money, you’ve yet to do much more than talk. You hired a private pension consultant whose bill is now topping $1 million, but your administration has yet to put forth any solid proposals much less legislation for the General Assembly to consider.

The reality you once acknowledged is that the largest public pension program has sunk to a dangerously low funding level in large part because for years governors and General Assemblies (which included many members who are now in leadership) failed to make the state’s contributions to match those deducted every two weeks from employees’ paychecks. Compounding that failure, they also approved cost of living increases for retirees that they equally failed to fund.

As recently as April you said “we truly have to create more revenue.”

In fairness, you did say that the best way to raise revenue is through a robust, growing economy. Agreed, but even that’s a lame promise when Kentucky continues to chip away at revenue from growth by giving huge tax breaks to businesses that locate here.

This, too, you once recognized. As recently as your State of the Commonwealth address in February you said there can’t be any sacred cows when the legislature looks at closing over 300 loopholes and tax breaks.

Now, governor, on the basis of numbers from your consultants, you’re claiming that underfunding is only a small part of the problem.

That political sleight-of-hand is nothing but cover to avoid the political challenges of eliminating tax exemptions or raising some taxes, or both, to raise money to meet pension and other obligations.

It’s hard to tell what, if any, agenda you really have.

Once you acknowledged that pension obligations could only be met by creating more revenue, which involved real tax reform. Now your tax reform seems to be about cutting taxes and your pension reform is cutting pensions.

Governor, listen to your own advice. Quit spreading panic, attacking and dividing. Start leading.

Lexington Herald-Leader