The Richmond Register

Viewpoints

March 4, 2013

More jeers than cheers for pension-reform shenanigans

FRANKFORT — Cheers to Sen. Bob Leeper, I-Paducah, for filing a bill limiting Kentucky General Assembly sessions to every other year instead of annually.

Before voters approved a constitutional amendment allowing annual sessions in 2000, the legislature met only in even-numbered years for 60 day sessions.

Unfortunately, Kentuckians were convinced by big-government types that allowing politicians to gather annually would result in the people’s work getting done on time and limit the need for special sessions, which drive up the cost of government.

“The way it was was better,” Leeper told the Senate State and Local Government Committee.

Way better.

Counting all days in regularly scheduled and special sessions, the legislature spent 505 days meeting between 2001 and 2010, compared to only 423 days during the previous decade, and only 392 days during the decade of the 1980s.

Government has grown at every level, including Kentucky’s state government. And, as 19th century Tammany Hall Democrat Judge Gideon J. Tucker keenly observed: “No man’s life, liberty or property are safe while the legislature is in session.”

What apparently is safe while the 2013 Kentucky Legislature meets is the state’s out-of control spending on pension benefits.

And for that, we send the loudest jeers to the leadership of both parties.

When this session began, there was bipartisan agreement that significant steps were needed to address the state’s public pension crisis.

Apparently, the House’s understanding of “significant” means relying exclusively on anticipated proceeds from expanded gambling opportunities in the commonwealth.

And that’s despite the fact that the Kentucky Supreme Court has yet to rule on the legality of at least one source of those planned revenues – instant racing games at horse tracks.

Still, the House’s pension-funding legislation sent to the Senate includes expectations that about $100 million could be raised through such schemes.

House leaders are justified, though, in chastising the Senate for sending them a pension bill that proposes placing future workers in a hybrid 401k-style retirement plan in which the state would offer a guaranteed minimum return on investments without determining how to fund it.

This bill would replace the current and antiquated defined-benefit plan where the state pays a fixed amount regardless of its financial status or returns earned on invested funds.

While Senate Bill 2 moves in the right direction by setting up a retirement plan that better reflects the private-sector’s approach, failing to map out a funding path is a failure to acknowledge the upfront cost associated with the change.

Still, the Senate’s irresponsibility has been dwarfed by the House’s unconstitutional shenanigans.

When voters permitted annual sessions in 2000, they approved a measure that included this text: “the General Assembly may consider any issue except that the General Assembly shall be prohibited from passing any bill raising revenue or appropriating funds unless agreed to by three-fifths of all members elected to each house.”

But House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, thinks he has found a way to mute the voice of the people with some obscure 1892 court ruling, which he claims can limit the three-fifths rule only to final votes on funding bills.

Clearly, a very weak argument.

It’s certainly not what voters agreed to in 2000. They said “any bill raising revenue or appropriating funds” must reach the three-fifths threshold – which means 60 legislators must vote for it.

Any bill – final, preliminary or otherwise.

Because only 52 representatives voted for the House’s sorry version of pension reform, it’s unconstitutional.

Senate President Robert Stivers, R-London, rightly predicts that if the Senate were to pass this legislation, it would only open the door to a frequent flood of funding bills from the House that don’t reach this constitutional requirement.

Another special session to straighten all of this out, anyone?

Jim Waters is president of the Bluegrass Institute, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Reach him at jwaters@freedomkentucky.com. Read previously published columns at www.freedomkentucky.org/bluegrassbeacon. 

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