Kentucky has the means to fund pensions
Years of cuts have followed the legislature’s inability to provide adequate revenue to meet budget needs. To offset declining revenue, even the state’s teacher and public servant pensions were raided.
With his 2017 proposal, Gov. Bevin tried and failed to make teachers and other public servants pay for the pension funding errors of the past by cutting pensions and upending pension rights. The pension system is a contract between the state government and its employees. Whereas businesses can wipe out pension rights with bankruptcy, the state has the means and the obligation to institute a tax system which meets its obligations to its employees and the citizens they serve.
Bevin even made pension under-funding seem worse by proposing Kentucky abandon the system of rewarding service with pensions. A continuing system can be shored up because new contributions can go a long way to meeting pension costs. Plus, the underfunded debt can be retired over a term of decades instead of burdening the treasury immediately. If state pensions are abandoned and employees made to suffer for the current “crisis”, Kentucky will lose substantial mature expertise to early retirement, and younger talent will leave Kentucky for better-run states. Good governance will suffer. Kentucky will lose.
Though budget shortfalls and the pension problem can be solved with funding, equally important is how tax reform is tackled. The legislature has long created tax loopholes for special interests, including business incentives with neither sunset provisions nor oversight into whether the tax breaks brought enough desired benefits.
Income tax rates are skewed to favor the well-off and rich at the expense of the middle- and low-wage earner. (Whereas 80 percent of the population is taxed at a 9-10.8 percent rate, yearly incomes over $225,000 are taxed at only 7.4-6 percent — before itemized deductions.)
Income tax increases on the richest and loophole decreases should be on the table, as well as sales taxes on luxury goods and services. What should not be on the table are taxes on food or medicine. (People struggling with basic needs should not subsidize the well-off.)
A cost-saver would be to move away from expensive prison expansion towards criminal justice reforms and opioid treatment solutions.
Does this General Assembly have the will and courage to put the well-being of most citizens above special interests and wealthy donors? We can hope. We shall see.