Transparency should be key for legislature in 2018

Published 8:44 am Thursday, January 4, 2018


Frankfort State Journal

With 2018 now well underway, some of Kentucky’s state legislators may be getting started on their New Year’s resolutions, but we have one all members of the House and Senate should embrace: transparency.

Email newsletter signup

This week marks the start of the 2018 legislative session, and as our representatives and senators work to solve the many, thorny issues facing them, transparency should be paramount.

First and foremost, it should apply to pension and budget discussions. As evidenced by a protest in November and two rallies scheduled this week — inside the Capitol by teachers and on the Capitol steps by state employees — Kentuckians know their future will be affected by public pension reform and feel they haven’t been heard by state officials.

In the session that runs through April 13, the legislature has the opportunity to remedy the problem or ensure Kentuckians don’t feel ignored by elected officials. The legislature should hold at least one public hearing to gather input about ideas to raise revenue or make large spending cuts, if that’s the preferred option, before considering a bill. At least one more public hearing should be held before the General Assembly takes a final vote on a pension reform proposal.

Meanwhile, the legislature should deliberate in public through all stages of the process.

But indications that they will do so aren’t good. Currently, the Kentucky House of Representatives is engaged in a lawsuit with the Bluegrass Institute about whether a closed meeting in August violated the state’s Open Meetings Act. The suit started after the House appealed a decision by the Attorney General’s Office that the meeting violated state law.

While legislators met in private to discuss the tens of billions of dollars in unfunded pension liabilities, state workers were left wondering when a solution might be reached. No special session was called, and the state’s budget is falling short of projected revenues. As a result, Gov. Matt Bevin last week ordered spending cuts of 1.3 percent.

At some point, state officials will need to reform the state’s pension system, and there are two basic options — further reduce funding for a state government that’s already been plagued by cuts in recent years or raise revenue through taxes or other means. Both could have a significant effect on the daily lives of Kentuckians, and legislators should ensure their actions comport with the wishes of the people who will be affected. Public hearings that are properly advertised are the best method to accomplish that.

When faced with such monumental tasks as pension reform and balancing a budget, transparency is key. Kentucky state legislators should commit to that principle in 2018.