Yesterday, Louisville’s Courier-Journal newspaper printed a piece titled “Kentucky’s special session on pensions is over. Who are the winners and losers?” The article compared winners and losers after the KY State House voted to adjourn less than 24 hours after Governor Matt Bevin called a special session on pension reform.
The article’s author, Thomas Novelly, dedicated 11 paragraphs to claiming Governor Matt Bevin was the big loser while only giving one 26-word paragraph to the $43 billion in pension debt for which Kentuckians are on the hook.
Novelly’s decision to define Governor Matt Bevin as the biggest loser represents an insertion of his own political bias while downplaying the most serious issue facing our Commonwealth. Further, it shows a lack of understanding of what’s really at stake and the dire circumstances of our pension crisis.
The stark reality is that without serious reforms – reforms that go well beyond the bills that were to be discussed in the special session – our pension crisis is a threat to the most essential government functions: education, public safety, and infrastructure.
In Louisville’s school system alone, the pension costs for non-teachers increased $18 million this year. That brings the Jefferson County School System’s portion of pension costs to over $54 million. If not for a law passed to allow cities, counties, and school boards to phase in the increased costs – a law now in jeopardy after the Supreme Court ruling that led to the special session – that would mean $54 million drained away from the actual goal of education spending which is educating students. Regardless, it’s a $54 million bill that has to be paid at the expense of other important government functions.
Similarly, Kentucky taxpayers are responsible for Louisville Metro Government’s pension costs that jumped to $120 million. If the city must fully cover those costs within their own budget, that’s $120 million that won’t be spent on combating Louisville’s skyrocketing crime or fixing the city’s crumbling roads and sidewalks. And, Jefferson County is not alone – the pension drain on essential government functions is a reality for every county of our Commonwealth.
Taxpayers cannot afford continued politicization of Kentucky’s pension crisis. Our future depends on recognizing the need for reform and having the courage to make the necessary changes to address the dire circumstances our state faces. Until then, Kentuckians will remain the biggest losers in this debate.