The Bluegrass Institute is saddened at the death of one of our commonwealth’s – and country’s – fallen heroes.
Lowell D. Reese, a Kentucky native and founder of Kentucky Roll Call, a public-affairs publishing company in Frankfort, passed away on April 15.
Reese, who fought for his country as a battalion commander on the front lines in Vietnam, served the commonwealth passionately and faithfully — particularly in efforts to advance sound policies that would bring badly needed reforms, change the trajectory of Kentucky’s future and improve the lives of his fellow Kentuckians.
He helped spur efforts in recent years to shine the light on Kentucky’s public-pension system, taking particular aim at House Bill 299, which he labeled the “Pension Greed Act” because it lets legislators calculate their legislative pensions using their full-time salaries in another state or local government job rather than their part-time lawmaker salaries.
“This practice allows part-time legislators to convert their normal pension to super-sized pensions,” Reese wrote in Future Shock Solutions: 16 steps to treat Kentucky’s public pension ailment, the final in a series of Bluegrass Institute policy reports he authored on the state’s retirement plans.
Reese often stated that the first and most-important of those steps was making the commonwealth’s retirement plans transparent, allowing taxpayers – especially retirees who depend on state-funded pensions for their livelihoods and economic security — access to information needed to hold Frankfort’s politicians accountable and achieve challenging reforms.
Reese in the Future Shock series of reports put the unfunded pension-liability crisis in perspective:
Kentucky’s public servants and retirees are increasingly and rightfully concerned about the security of their retirement livelihood. But towering above that, funding their pensions has become a societal issue.
The standard of living of all Kentuckians is at stake. How is that, you ask?
Human progress depends on economic progress, and economic progress depends on laws that favor it — and on education. Two-thirds of the state’s budget, the General Fund, goes to education. When public employee pensions compete with other government programs for funding, pensions will come first.
Following the minor pension-policy changes enacted in 2013 by the Kentucky General Assembly, Reese pointedly chastised the legislature for failing to address “benefit creep.” He called tackling the expenditures in the system “the other third rail in politics,” in part “because it would draw attention to the legislators’ role in creating the crisis.”
His prophetic analysis of the impact that the public-pension crisis was having on the entire economic vitality of the commonwealth in a Courier-Journal op-ed in January 2014 rings just as true – perhaps even truer – in April 2016 with recent passage of a budget that cuts higher-education funding in order to increase payments to the retirement systems but does nothing to address the plans’ expenditures:
Pensions are dipping into the budget of the commonwealth as never before. Pensions are crowding out education. They are crowding out infrastructure. They are crowding out programs that affect the lives of all Kentuckians.
Lowell Reese was a man who served his country in the fight against communism in Vietnam and his commonwealth in a campaign to address the most challenging issues of our day. He is a true Kentucky hero.
The Bluegrass Institute sends our deepest condolences to his wife, Carol, and the entire Reese family.
A celebration of life gathering will be held at a future date.