In the closing days of this year’s session of the Kentucky General Assembly, the Republican-dominated legislature overrode Gov. Matt Bevin’s vetoes of its budget – which proposed spending $600 million more than the governor’s plan – and a mammoth tax increase to fund it.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the political aisle, Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear, who fancies himself as the boy wonder of Kentucky politics, filed a lawsuit against a reasonable pension-reform bill that passed during the session.
Senate Bill 151 contains few changes for current beneficiaries but ensures new teachers have sustainable accounts and generous annuity payments when they retire.
Beshear’s boy-wonder schtick loses its luster, however, when considering his father and former Gov. Steve Beshear’s administration woefully failed when it came to addressing the state retirement plans.
But those aren’t the only two peas in the pod.
The Kentucky Education Association (KEA) – the state’s largest teachers’ union – joined Beshear in his lawsuit.
Yet while we have a whole lot of tax-hikin’ and lawsuitin’ goin’ on, there’s not much problem-solvin’, at least not the kind related to this important principle: sound policy requires consideration of the long-term effects on all Kentuckians rather than just the short-term impact on a relatively small group.
We need to hear more talk in Frankfort about looking out for taxpayers who produce every day to support public workers’ pensions, even if, like Bevin wrote in an op-ed, “these men and women are too busy working and raising their families to come to Frankfort and yell at legislators.”
These folks matter too, don’t they?
They certainly form the majority of the nearly 1.3 million taxpayers across the commonwealth, each one of whom would have to write a check today for $48,000 just to cover Kentucky’s pension liability even though the Census reports the commonwealth’s median household income is only about $42,000.
Beshear’s lawsuit doesn’t seem to give this large group much consideration.
There are over a half-million members in the public-retirement plans, meaning taxpayers not currently in a public system outnumber by at least a nearly 2-1 margin any combination of beneficiaries and retirees who also file returns.
The only reform affecting current teachers in the pension bill, which Bevin signed into law soon after issuing his vetoes, was in not allowing the use of future unused sick days accrued after Dec. 31 to spike lifetime pension benefits.
Otherwise, the reforms are limited to creating 21st-century cash balance retirement accounts for new teachers that are portable, protect against unfunded liabilities and provide secure annual annuity payments.
Beshear may achieve a modicum of short-term political gain by winning his lawsuit and yet, in doing so, stop a plan ensuring a secure retirement for future teachers and addressing the current pension systems’ slide toward insolvency.
Like the KEA, the only solutions offered by Beshear and his union pals revolves around taking more away from taxpayers and giving it to Frankfort.
Republicans also seem eager to take more out of our pockets with their proposal to pick government winners and losers by levying taxes on 17 additional services.
Politicians of both parties are famous for swearing they’ve cut spending to the point that the bone sticks out of the patient.
So, does this mean that GOP politicians think owning and maintaining 13 golf courses is a core function of state government that can’t be cut?
Apparently so, since they voted for tax increases on private golf courses.
How else can you maintain government-owned courses unless you tax private ones?
Doesn’t this mean that private golf-course owners will now be forced to subsidize their publicly owned competition?
It’s too bad, isn’t it, that taxpayers can’t file their own lawsuit.
I’m told by legal experts they wouldn’t have standing.
Maybe not, but they’d have plenty of reasons.
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 email@example.com and @bipps on Twitter.
(LEXINGTON, Ky.) – Financial analyst Aaron Ammerman has become the new chairman of the Bluegrass Institute Board of Directors following outgoing chair Tim Yessin’s announcement that he will transition off the board to focus on his growing financial-services business.
Ammerman, a Bluegrass Institute board member since 2014, has had a long career as an investment consultant advising public pension funds and individuals. He is a member of the Bluegrass Institute Pension Reform Team and also serves on additional local boards with a focus on education. He has an undergraduate degree from Asbury University and a master’s in economics from the University of East London – England.
Yessin joined the board will in 2008 and was elected chairman in 2013.
He also serves as vice president and a wealth management advisor with WealthSouth Concierge Financial Services Industry, a division of Farmers National Bank of Danville with offices also in Lexington and Bowling Green.
Bluegrass Institute president and CEO Jim Waters praised Yessin for helping guide the organization through the economic downturn that negatively affected many nonprofits.
“Tim’s been unwavering in backing our efforts to confront the biggest threats to Kentucky’s economic well-being,” Waters said. “He is a true patriot who understands and supports the Bluegrass Institute’s role of advancing free-market solutions to the critical issues facing our commonwealth rather that offering Band-Aids that leave future generations holding the bag and carrying the load for failed, costly policies.”
The Bluegrass Institute’s impact on advancing freedom for Kentucky workers has grown exponentially under Yessin’s chairmanship, including leading America’s first local right-to-work movement that ultimately resulted in the commonwealth becoming the 27th right-to-work state last January.
“Important policy changes that have occurred in Kentucky in recent years with not only right-to-work, but the repeal of prevailing wages on public projects, paycheck protection for workers, school choice and making legislators’ pensions transparent are a testimony to the hard, focused and effective work of this valuable organization,” Yessin said. “Considering what the institute has been able to accomplish in its first 15 years, I expect it will have an even greater impact in its next 15 years and beyond. I want to recommend that all Kentuckians who care about sound policy based on principles of liberty and prosperity show their moral and financial support for this organization.”
During Yessin’s tenure, the organization also has demonstrated great impact in bringing more transparency and accountability to government bodies at all levels, including creation of the Bluegrass Institute Center for Open Government with its citizen-centered focus on making government at all levels more accountable and accessible to its constituent-taxpayers.
Yessin’s leadership has also provided valuable support in forming the pension reform team and developing a strategy that has resulted in developing a new paradigm that will provide a defined benefit for Kentucky workers in the future while also protecting taxpayers and paying down the retirement systems’ current $60 billion unfunded liability, a factor in the downgrade of the commonwealth’s credit rating.
“During his service on our board and tenure as chairman, the Bluegrass Institute has demonstrated growing impact in moving our state from political gridlock, corruption and government dependency toward a free, independent and prosperous Kentucky,” Waters said. “We very much appreciate Tim’s service and look forward to continuing to work with him to advance our mission of making Kentucky the fastest-growing, most-innovative state in America.”
Waters said the fact that Ammerman has served on the pension reform team since it was formed two years ago makes him the ideal candidate to become the institute’s next chairman.
“Aaron understands the danger that Kentucky’s huge pension liability poses to the institute’s vision of growth, prosperity and opportunity for future generations of Kentuckians,” Waters said. “He’s fully engaged in this issue and brings to the chairmanship a real sense of urgency to addressing the greatest threat to the commonwealth’s economic security during our lifetime.”
For more information, contact Bluegrass Institute president and CEO Jim Waters @ 270.320.4376.
Insider Louisville just posted a rather interesting article that discusses two former Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) leaders now in the “fight for JCPS takeover.”
The first individual is Tom Hudson, the former chief business officer for JCPS. Hudson has been highly active in the Op-Ed world recently, penning at least two articles in the Courier-Journal alone about “The cowardice of JCPS leaders puts kids and staff at risk. The state must step in | Tom Hudson” and “Kentucky should handle contract with JCPS teachers’ union, critic says.” Both call for the state to take over the schools.
Hudson has also written to Kentucky’s interim commissioner of Education Wayne Lewis, directly asking for a state takeover in a letter that strikes us as even more inflammatory than the Insider’s coverage makes it seem.
Suffice it to say, racism is far from the only zinger Hudson is hurling. With his former insider’s insight, Hudson hits on issues from an inappropriate way to finance teacher salaries that creates serious imbalances in staff experience levels across schools to improprieties in the last teachers’ union contract negotiation.
We can’t confirm if Hudson is right, but the charges, coming from a former JCPS insider, need consideration and the public deserves access to the letter. So, thanks to permission from Mr. Hudson, we obtained a slightly edited version of his letter, including all attachments, and you can read the disturbing charges for yourself by clicking here.
But, Hudson isn’t the only former JCPS person discussed in the Insider’s article.
The Insider reports that an old friend, Dr. Dewey Hensley, former chief academic officer at JCPS, has also written a short note to commissioner Lewis regarding JCPS takeover. Hensley isn’t pulling punches, either. He says adults in the district might be happier now, but that doesn’t equate to better education for students, something yet to be proven. Hensley also indicates there is considerable resistance on the part of JCPS principals to real change, something that probably led to his fiery resignation letter back in 2015.
What is really sad is that Hensley had a real track record in turning ailing schools around, as we mentioned years earlier following a site visit to the J.B. Atkinson Elementary School in Louisville.
With Dr. Hensley JCPS had the talent it needed to make real change, but this troubled school system squandered that opportunity.
There is another interesting Louisville personality speaking out in favor of a state takeover. Humana cofounder David Jones Sr. is on record calling for the state to take over the school system.
Says Jones, Sr.:
“We’ve had one superintendent after another — who are incredibly talented, as I’m sure Marty is — but the schools don’t get fixed,” Jones Sr. said. “Something has to happen that is different from what is happening now.”
Marty is Dr. Marty Pollio, the current superintendent of the JCPS. Obviously, Jones Sr. doesn’t think the school system can be changed without dramatic – external – intervention that will break up the current power structure in the school district.
There is an interesting tie to David Jones Sr. It is his son, David Jones Jr., the former chair of the Jefferson County Board of Education, who I incorrectly thought had made the comments mentioned above, though they actually are from his father.
I am told that, unlike his father, David Jones Jr. has not specifically spoken out publicly for a state takeover of the JCPS system. However, along with his father he is a member of the Steering Committee for Action on Louisville’s Agenda (SCALA) and heads that group’s subcommittee on education. Some of the Jones Jr. comments in a recent InsiderLouisville article make an interesting read.
This also makes for an interesting list of players in the growing food fight over who will run the JCPS system. Will more voices be added? Stay tuned.
Note: This corrects an earlier version of this blog that incorrectly attributed comments made by David Jones Sr. to David Jones Jr.
News Release: Institute’s Center for Open Government prevails in circuit court dispute regarding House’s secret pension meeting
For Immediate Release: May 14, 2018
(FRANKFORT, Ky.) — A Franklin Circuit Court judge has ruled in favor of the Bluegrass Institute Center for Open Government’s claim that the Kentucky House of Representatives illegally conducted a closed meeting to discuss public pension reform.
Judge Thomas D. Wingate rejected the House’s claim that a closed meeting of a quorum of members last summer to discuss a report issued by PFM, the consultant charged with evaluating the state’s retirement systems, was authorized under an exception to the Open Meetings Act for legislative committees other than standing committees.
The Center for Open Government is represented in the case by Louisville attorney William Sharp and former Kentucky Assistant Attorney General Amye Bensenhaver, an open government advocate.
Wingate held that a gathering of both the majority and minority parties is not a caucus meeting and that the exception is inapplicable. It is, he ruled, a meeting of a quorum of the members of a public agency – in this case, the legislature – at which public business was discussed.
Because no exception to the Open Meetings Act authorizes closed-session discussions of the commonwealth’s pension system, the House violated the fundamental requirement of public meetings found in the Act, he said.
“Only within the Frankfort bubble can politicians call a closed meeting in which nearly the entire House attends, claim it was a political-caucus session, discuss the most important public policy issue of the day and expect the citizens or judiciary to go along with such nonsense,” Bluegrass Institute president and CEO Jim Waters said. “We have no problem with separate caucus meetings of political parties behind closed doors but refuse to accept keeping the public and press out to discuss an issue just because it happens to be controversial and make politicians uncomfortable.”
Rep. Jim Wayne, D-Louisville, was the only lawmaker who walked out of the closed session on Aug. 29 after unsuccessfully attempting to persuade then-Speaker Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, to allow the public to attend.
Wingate also rejected the House’s claim that legislative immunity and privilege authorized it to exclude the public from the meeting and prevented the courts from reviewing its actions. He agreed with the Center for Open Government that the “statutory framework adopted by the General Assembly in the Open Meetings Act applies, by its own terms, to the meetings of the General Assembly unless the meeting falls within one of the statutorily prescribed exceptions,” and that the court has authority to review the legal question.
The House appealed a Nov. 1 ruling by the Kentucky Office of the Attorney General in response to an appeal by the Center for Open Government claiming the meeting was illegal because public business was discussed behind closed doors.
“We’re hopeful that Judge Wingate’s prompt and legally persuasive analysis of the open-meetings issues involved in this important case finally resolves the matter,” Bensenhaver said. “It’s now up to the House of Representatives to decide whether to pursue this issue in the appellate courts.”
The Center for Open Government in its complaint requested that House leaders take the following steps for “remedying this violation”:
- Acknowledge that it violated KRS 61.810(1) in conducting a closed meeting of a quorum of its members at which public business was discussed.
- Provide the public with a copy of any written record or audio or video recording of the closed session.
- Issue a resolution committing to future compliance with the requirements of the open meetings law.
For more information, please contact Amye Bensenhaver at 502.330.1816.
Bluegrass Institute staff education analyst Richard Innes in an op-ed in Thursday’s Louisville Courier-Journal writes in favor of the state intervening in the Jefferson County Public Schools.
“The JCPS system needs major work, but after a quarter-century of KERA, the district hasn’t proven capable of meeting the challenge on its own,” Innes writes. ” … Kentuckians must consider every available option – even temporary state takeovers – to make sure that a school system which seriously fails children becomes a thing of the past.”
Read the entire op-ed here.