Government by the day or week: What's possible?

Employers in the private sector when it comes to retirement benefits have largely gone to a defined-contribution approach; some conservatives also believe it's the only way to fix Kentucky's public-pension crisis.

It's, of course, much-less complicated for private companies to make such a sea change in benefit policies.

Small groups of executives can engineer adjustments during single afternoons in private-sector conference rooms.

Employees can accept the switch or change employers.

It's a stark contrast with how decisions get made in political settings.

Commonsense policymakers who want to promptly fix Kentucky's pension crisis are frustrated with a system stuck in a quagmire of politics and bureaucracy which too often gives cover to leftists who want no adjustments in pension policies.

The only change these big-government progressives want to hear is the ka-ching! of state government's cash register bolting open to squeeze more hard-earned dough from taxpayers with little interest in how benefits are determined and pension dollars spent.

Such tension is apparent following Gov. Matt Bevin's veto of House Bill 358, which would have given relief to regional universities, local health departments and other quasi-governmental agencies facing higher pension payments beginning on July 1, Kentucky's fiscal New Year's Day,

Bigger payments by these employers were required following a jarring correction to investment-assumption and payroll-growth rates in 2017.

Quasi-government agencies claim that being required to increase their pension payments so dramatically and immediately would force them to close their doors as they could no longer afford to provide services.

After being given a year's reprieve, the quasi entities requested - and HB 358 would have granted - an additional year of relief from higher payments.

The governor claims that parts of the bill are not legally sound, including a provision allowing suspension of benefit payments to employees of quasi agencies who want to leave the state's retirement system but which fail to make previously agreed-upon installment payments covering the organization's portion of its pension fund liability.

While legal eagles can debate whether such suspension violates the so-called "inviolable contract" the commonwealth supposedly has with state workers - although no one seems able to hand me a hard copy of such an agreement - the governor coming from that let's-get-it-done background prods: it's not a big deal; let's call everyone back to Frankfort and fix it in a day.

"It's just take out the parts that are illegal and then repass the thing," Bevin told Louisville radio station WHAS talk-show host Leland Conway.

Some press and politicians are crucifying Bevin, claiming he doesn't understand the legislative process or lives in a fantasy world.

It may, indeed, be fantastical to believe government can get anything done in a day.

Some conservative leaders are upset, believing the governor misled them into thinking he supported the policy contained in HB 358 only to turn on them via his veto pen.

Some such gridlock and tension can be healthy, especially when it creates accountability and makes government work better for its constituents.

A better way, though, might be getting agreement on implementing a new pension plan for new teachers by July 1.

That at least would end some of the digging in Kentucky's ever-deepening pension hole and free taxpayers from huge financial obligation that begins the day each new teacher enters the system and doesn't end until they enter the afterlife.

Could such an approach garner enough pre-legislative-session support resulting in Bevin adding it to the agenda then lawmakers hearing, debating and passing it in a constitutional manner?

That couldn't happen in a day, but a week?

Anything's possible if we force partisanship aside and focus on the best future for Kentucky.

Jim Waters is president and CEO of the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, Kentucky's free-market think tank. Read previous columns at www.bipps.org. He can be reached at jwaters@freedomkentucky.com and @bipps on Twitter.

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