Bluegrass Beacon: Make health care affordable again

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Editor’s note: The Bluegrass Beacon column is a weekly syndicated statewide newspaper column posted on the Bluegrass Institute website after being released to and published by newspapers statewide.

Whether the American Health Care Act (AHCA), which narrowly passed the U.S. House of Representatives last month, offers an effective repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) – affectionately known as Obamacare – is the subject of much debate as the Senate takes up another attempt to deal with the failed health care fiasco.

It’s indisputable, however, that any replacement plan failing to deal with cost – the primary malady affecting health-care policy – is an effort in futility.

A growing body of evidence suggests that not only has Obamacare done little to address the cost of health-care products and services, it’s exacerbated the problem.

Recent analysis by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services indicates average premiums are 105 percent higher for Americans in the 39 states purchasing policies through the federal exchange in 2017 than for individuals’ plans in 2013 – before the exchange was created.

The analysis further unpacked reports that the average individual market premiums rose from $2,784 before Obamacare had kicked up to $5,712 in 2017.

“Affordable” Care Act, anyone?

All of this, it seems, would produce a wonderful opportunity for Republicans, who control Congress, the presidency and most state legislatures to use the leverage given them by voters to tattoo history with:  “Here’s how you do health-care reform,” and do it right.

Don’t get your hopes up.

Insurance-company lobbyists and welfare recipients have joined forces to weaken the resolve of many legislators who campaigned for changing a policy that never should have been implemented in the first place.

We would’ve been much better off seven years ago, instead of passing Obamacare, to adhere to the wise adage of President Calvin Coolidge: it’s “much more important to kill bad bills than to pass good ones.”

Still, killing not only Obamacare but its foundational ideas and approaches remains a priority.

More than reasonable doubt exists concerning whether the AHCA comes anywhere close to doing this – with its Obamacare-like approaches to taxes, subsidies and even mandates.

Northern Kentucky congressman Thomas Massie, one of 20 Republicans to oppose the AHCA, sassily compared the legislation to a kidney stone, charging “the House doesn’t care what happens to it, as long as they can pass it.”

Yet even when it comes to something as politically charged as whether we’re going to replace a health-care policy bearing the name of a Democratic president with a Republican-created substitute, progress can be made regarding critical policies in a bipartisan way.

There is, for example, strong support for making the cost of care transparent.

Costs have largely been hidden in our days of low co-pays, employer-provided plans dominated by third-party administrators and government programs.

“I don’t think I’ve ever had a Medicaid patient ask me how much something costs,” Dr. Cameron Schaeffer, a Lexington-based pediatric urologist and proponent of free-market policies, said on KET’s recent Kentucky Tonight program.

Neither Obamacare nor the AHCA effectively connects patients with cost, which is critical to making America’s great health care affordable again.

One viewer’s email read by Kentucky Tonight host Renee Shaw noted, “a free market only works when there is competition.”

Both Schaeffer and fellow KET panelist Dr. Barbara Casper, an internist, professor of medicine at the University of Louisville and Obamacare supporter, agreed providers should post their prices in a clear and understandable way.

Doing so would “help patients know what they’re getting into” and “would also allow for … more competition,” Casper said.

“I think we need to do everything we can to lower costs,” she added.

Whatever your political belief system, you will bear the burden or at least the consequences of higher health-care costs.

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.

Bluegrass Beacon: Holding public records hostage

Amye BensenhaverBy Amye Bensenhaver, Guest Columnist

Editor’s note: The Bluegrass Beacon column is a weekly syndicated statewide newspaper column posted on the Bluegrass Institute website after being released to and published by newspapers statewide.

While employed as an instructor at the University of Kentucky’s School of Journalism, former hostage Terry Anderson recounted his five-year battle with federal agencies to obtain copies of public records under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) relating to the government’s efforts to secure his release from Hezbollah kidnappers during his nearly seven-year captivity.

Anderson described his bemusement when agency officials suggested he obtain signed releases from his former captors to expedite disclosure of the records he sought and protect his captors’ privacy. He shared his frustration when the records he received consisted almost entirely of newspaper articles and photos.

Although the content of the records ultimately disclosed to him was disappointing, Anderson’s protracted struggle illustrates, as the federal courts have observed, that “the value of information is partly a function of time.”

In the federal case recognizing this well-entrenched principle of records-access law, the U.S. Department of Justice postponed access to records requested under FOIA for up to 15 years.

The federal court decided that the delay was excessive, noting “Congress gave agencies 20 days, not years, to decide whether to comply with requests and notify the requesters.”

The court acknowledged that the Freedom of Information Act “doubtless poses practical difficulties for federal agencies,” but refused to “repeal it by a construction that vitiates any practical utility it may have.”

In other words, the court was unwilling to erode the principle of timely access to public records as an accommodation to the agency’s burden – real or imagined – and suggested that the agency present its concerns to Congress.

Kentucky’s public officials regularly complain about the three-day statutory deadline for responding to a request under the Open Records Act.

Lawmakers undoubtedly adopted a short turnaround for agency response in recognition of the fact that “the value of information is partly a function of time.”

The Kentucky Attorney General’s office in a recently issued decision admonished Louisville Metro Government for failing to explain the reasons for a 45-day delay in producing records responsive to a series of broadly worded requests relating to a complaint of sexual harassment, hostile work environment and retaliation filed by a Louisville Zoo employee.

The attorney general found that the facts on appeal supported the delay in producing the records beyond the three-day statutory deadline based on proof that just one of the multiple requests involved more than 23,000 records.

Delays in producing public records by state and local agencies in Kentucky may pale in comparison to delays at the federal level but are no less offensive to the principle that “the value of information is partly a function of time.”

Perhaps the solution to this and other problems lies in the statutory revision of the 40-year-old law.

Any such revision must be faithful to the law’s strongly worded statement of legislative policy favoring the public’s right to know but recognize the dramatic changes in the public-records landscape since the law’s enactment in 1976.

The newly created Bluegrass Institute Center for Open Government proposes revising the commonwealth’s open records and meetings laws in a new report, “Shining the Light on Kentucky Sunshine Laws.” We identify deficiencies in the laws exposed by successive legal challenges, suggest where revision is needed and make recommendations for change.

Our goal is to preserve what is best in the open meetings and records laws but encourage lawmakers to close loopholes in the laws that are frequently exploited by state and local agencies at the expense of the public’s right to know. Doing so will ease the burden on public agencies, reduce the likelihood of legal challenges, preserve administrative and judicial resources and, above all, promote the clearly stated policy of open, transparent and accountable government.

Amye Bensenhaver is director of the Bluegrass Institute Center for Open Government at www.bipps.org. She wrote nearly 2,000 legal opinions regarding open records and meetings laws during a 25-year career as a Kentucky assistant attorney general. She can be reached at abensenhaver@freedomkentucky.com.

Anti-right-to-work zealots need a new act

BluegrassBeaconLogoEditor’s note: The Bluegrass Beacon column is a weekly syndicates statewide newspaper column posted on the Bluegrass Institute website after being released to and published by newspapers statewide.

Like comedian Kathy Griffin, who despicably held up a simulation of President Donald Trump’s head, leaders of the anti-right-to-work movement desperately need new material.

In fact, they need a brand-new act.

Following are some direct questions that should cause them to see the futility of a lawsuit they have filed opposing Kentucky’s new and effective right-to-work law:    

  • You claim the legal action is all about helping workers harmed by right-to-work. Can you name one single worker injured by this law?

If so, why isn’t their name on the lawsuit, instead of AFL-CIO chief Bill Londrigan and Teamsters 89 boss Fred Zuckerman?

How do these union heads even have standing, considering their claim is built on the premise that Kentucky’s right-to-work law harms workers?

Could they not get even one union dues-paying employee to step up and sign on the proverbial dotted line to take on this state’s governor and Labor Cabinet Secretary Derrick Ramsey instead of the general “affiliated unions and their members?”

Could it be that Gov. Matt Bevin was spot-on when he suggested, in his response to the lawsuit’s filing, that union bosses use these types of doomed-to-fail legal actions to “get re-elected to a job where you’re paid well?”

  • Why would you file a lawsuit to try and stop the growth in economic momentum that right-to-work is bringing to Kentucky?

Try as they may, it’s impossible for the plaintiffs and their political pals to deny this clear claim from Braidy Industries CEO Craig Bouchard, who, at the ribbon-cutting celebrating arguably the largest industry announcement in Appalachia’s history, stated: “If Kentucky was not a right-to-work state, you wouldn’t have gotten on the list because it’s so important to us.”

Attempting to unravel a policy that will help create 550 jobs paying blue-collar workers $70,000 annually confirms this lawsuit isn’t about protecting workers.

Rather, it’s about forcing the 99 percent to indulge the 1 percent at the top, where union bosses who engineer this type of senseless opposition perch and, with knee-jerking consistency, condemn labor-freedom policies like right-to-work, which simply allow individuals to forego union membership or payment of dues without losing their jobs.

  • Since federal labor law allows states to pass right-to-work policies, why are you wasting your remaining members’ dues on a frivolous lawsuit doomed to fail?

Rep. Jason Nemes, R-Louisville, charges the lawsuit is “an embarrassment” and makes claims that are “outlandish and similar to those rejected all over the country,” including by the Indiana Supreme Court after the Hoosier State passed its right-to-work law in 2012.

Perhaps these anti-right-to-work zealots believe they will get a favorable ruling just because they filed their inane litigation in a county overwhelmingly Democratic in registration and politics.

In pushing for the Kentucky Supreme Court to hear the case posthaste, they also have deluded themselves into believing a law passed by the duly-elected legislature will be overturned simply because most of the justices are registered Democrats with some ideological ax to grind.

But this isn’t a partisan issue, as indicated by many votes from both Democrat and Republican magistrates who supported local right-to-work ordinances in several counties before the statewide law passed in January.

To rule for the unions and upend Kentucky’s right-to-work law, the Supreme Court would have to totally invalidate the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause mandating that federal law preempts state policy.

It would “require a judge to dishonor their robe, and they’re not going to do that,” said Nemes, who previously served as chief of staff and counsel for retired Chief Justice Joseph Lambert.

Bevin has filed a motion to dismiss the legal challenge.

However, even if the courts don’t grant his request, this lawsuit will result in another devastating legal loss for labor-union bosses and a correspondingly large victory for job seekers, economic progress and individual liberty.

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.

Bluegrass Beacon — Kentucky to the ‘trade deficit’: You’re fired!

BluegrassBeaconLogoConsidering the Bluegrass State last year exported $30 billion worth of goods and services – more than 33 other states – Kentuckians should vigorously oppose anything remotely associated with a “war on trade.”

American Enterprise Institute scholar Mark Perry rated the share of Kentucky’s economy in 2015 linked to imports and exports fifth-highest in the nation, comprising 34 percent – or $66 billion – of the commonwealth’s $193 billion GDP.

Perhaps Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, who recently conducted a trade mission to Japan, could find a way to strike up a cordial conversation with his good friend President Donald Trump to put the commander-in-chief at ease about this whole “trade-deficit” matter.

Bevin could even share some wisdom from flyover country by passing on Indiana University Southeast economics professor D. Eric Schansberg’s reason for claiming the trade deficit remains “the most misunderstood concept in economics.”

Schansberg, Ph.D., says the discussion about international trade often focuses heavily on the downside – which tends to be more visible in terms of some individuals losing out in a global economy – while nearly completely missing out on its subtle but significantly important benefits for an entire state or nation.

“Trade is good for the aggregate if not always for the individual,” he says.

Schansberg, who’s also a Bluegrass Institute scholar, notes that “exports lead to imports” and warns that attempting to artificially narrow the so-called “trade deficit” could result in fewer dollars invested in America’s economy.

“Everybody talks about the difference in goods and services exported versus imports when what really matters is investment surplus,” Schansberg says.

Shallow-thinking protectionists rarely dig deep enough to reach this important component in making their own determinations about the success or failure of free-trade relationships.

Why, these shallow paddlers must wonder, would Bevin travel to Japan to tout the commonwealth as an attractive investment option instead of chastising that nation because last year it only spent $1.1 billion in direct purchases from Kentucky while we as a state imported $5.1 billion worth of Japanese products?

Consider the rest of this trading-partnership story.

Not only are imports critical to keeping Kentucky at – or near – the top in the automotive, aerospace and pharmaceutical industries, but Japanese-owned companies now operate more than 180 facilities in our commonwealth.

And while Kentucky is the fifth-largest importer of Japanese goods – Japan is the No. 1 international investor in the Bluegrass State, having created 44,400 full-time positions in those facilities.

“Investment surplus,” anyone?

An important teaching moment could occur if our governor explained to the president why Kentucky exporting nearly $30 billion while importing almost $40 billion is worthy of replicating rather than punishing, which would only bring us more harm, anyhow.

Schansberg notes the last time America had a trade surplus was not during an uptick but when the economy tanked during the late 1970s.

“It’s because investors were looking at our economy and they didn’t see it as a great investment,” he said.

All those current imports mean more choices and better prices for consumers and industry. It means foreign investors look at today’s Kentucky and America and they like – really like – what they see.

Frenchman Frédéric Bastiat, a 19th-century champion of free-market economics, proposed reversing “the principle of the balance of trade and calculate the national profit from foreign trade in terms of the excess of imports over exports.”

Bastiat called this “excess” the “real profit,” and challenged the contemporary protectionists of his day to produce evidence showing otherwise.

“Even if our imports are infinite and our exports nothing, I defy you to prove to me that we should be the poorer for it,” he said.

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

Bluegrass Institute — Charter-school bill: Will kids win?

BluegrassBeaconLogoThe Bevin administration and House Republican leadership – despite hard pushes for other platform priorities such as right-to-work and prevailing-wage repeal – may settle for a mediocre charter-school bill.

This is a testament to the stronghold the public-education complex has on our commonwealth and to its willingness to put money and control before students’ best interests.

Charter-school legislation has passed the state Senate for years, including Sen. Mike Wilson’s bill last year that sailed through with a 28-9 vote but ran aground before reaching the other end of the Capitol – a pattern we’ve seen for years.

Then came Election Night 2016 when the GOP took control of the Kentucky House of Representatives for the first time in nearly a century.

Voters handed Republicans supermajority status in the historic November election and seemed to say – as they had to then-candidate Matt Bevin during the previous year’s gubernatorial campaign: “Go to Frankfort, make the tough decisions and don’t worry about your re-election.”

Legislators led by a new and energized majority leadership responded by passing seven bills in the session’s historic first week concluding with an equally momentous Saturday session despite threats from protesting union bosses in the halls of the Capitol to defeat them in the next election.

Then came the charter-school bills.

Rep. Phil Moffett’s House Bill 103 would have allowed mayors in Kentucky’s largest cities, the Council on Postsecondary Education as well as colleges and universities with accredited education colleges to serve as charter-school authorizers – a best practice working well in other states.

Then superintendents, teachers-union bosses and the public-education complex in general threatened to make this the last term in Frankfort for anyone supporting a strong charter-school bill.

Along came Rep. John “Bam” Carney’s House Bill 520, limiting authorizers to local school boards except for mayors in Metro Louisville and Lexington, albeit with an appeals process to the Kentucky Board of Education. That bill passed the Kentucky House and now sits in the Senate Education Committee.

So, education-complex threats may be strong enough to force Kentucky policymakers to settle for a bill, the mediocrity of which mirrors this state’s education system in which, as Moffett notes, only 51 percent of high-schoolers can read at grade level and just 38 percent are proficient in math.

The Bevin administration sees Carney’s bill as an opportunity to get the door opened for charter schools in one of only seven remaining states without charters.

But even Bevin conceded he “would have liked to have seen more than is in this bill” while insisting “we have to factor in what is possible.”

Another possibility, of course, is to wait until a stronger bill can be passed – not the first time we’ve mentioned in this column that route for serious consideration.

At the very least, facts should drive the debate that will take place in the coming days in Frankfort, including this one: charter-school creation is much-more robust in states with multiple authorizing agencies.

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools reports there were 6,723 charter schools in the United States during 2015, of which 93 percent – or 6,241 – were in states with multiple authorizers. Only 482 – or 7 percent – exist in states that limit authorizers to local school boards.

For sure, the angst and debate regarding charter-school policy will test the political mettle of those sent to Frankfort by constituents assuming they would be in favor of strong reforms to our education system, which consumes 60 cents of every taxpayer dollar.

Will they stand up to the teachers unions’ uninformed and angry zealotry?

Will they fight for poor and at-risk children who stand to gain the most from great charter schools and who have no other voice but ours?

Will the best interests of thousands of young Kentuckians stuck in hundreds of mediocre and failing schools find a seat at the legislative table and a place in that debate?

Stay tuned.

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

Bluegrass Beacon: Embrace politically ecumenical policies

BluegrassBeaconLogoWhile the 2017 session of the Kentucky General Assembly has had its share of party-line votes, some policies designed to make government more transparent and accountable have garnered bipartisan support.

The decision by House Speaker Jeff Hoover and Senate President Robert Stivers to direct the Legislative Research Commission (LRC) to publish committee votes online within 24 hours is being hailed by policymakers across the political spectrum.

The decision resulted from a letter spearheaded by the United Kentucky Tea Party and signed by groups as diverse in their political views as Donald Trump and Chuck Schumer are concerning immigration policy – from Take Back Kentucky to the American Civil Liberties Union.

Apart from the most controversial bills, which usually result in the filing of floor amendments, most legislation’s heavy lifting occurs in committee hearings.

“Because the House and Senate committees have great influence on the consideration of bills by the full body, it is imperative that this critical process is similarly visible to the citizens of Kentucky,” the jointly signed letter.

Your humble correspondent enthusiastically signed as president of the Bluegrass Institute, which led the effort in 2005 to give citizens prompt access to votes on bills taken on the state House and Senate floors.

While that certainly was a giant step forward, making committee roll-call votes available in real time will, as Speaker Pro-Tem David Osborne, R-Prospect, observed, give constituents “access to every move we make on their behalf.”

House Minority Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook, also said his side of the aisle “concur and support the publication of legislative committee votes posted online.”

It should also change the practice of legislators passing on votes to avoid tough politically fraught decisions.

Committee-vote results for the remainder of this legislative session can be obtained by clicking:

  • “Legislation” at the top of the LRC website’s home page, then
  • “2017 Regular Session,” then
  • “In Senate” or “In House,” depending on which of the chamber’s committee voted on the bill.

It’s temporarily clunky. However, the information will become much-more useful once committee votes are included on bills’ vote history, which will be added later.

Senate Bill 3, which passed with a 95-1 vote during the session’s first week, is proving not only to make taxpayer dollars more transparent but also to have great impact as taxpayers get a full view of 400 current and retired lawmakers’ pension benefits.

Such transparency has made it possible for reporters and media outlets statewide to report on politicians who reap a six-figure pension by gaming the legislative retirement system for a lifetime while also double-dipping via collecting a second fat check from other state benefit plans.

Space doesn’t permit me to give you the lowdown on several other retired politicians collecting more than $100,000 in taxpayer-funded pension benefits nor on the sexual harassers, felons, even murderers who receive a lifetime of public-retirement checks courtesy of we, the taxpayers.

But you can see it for yourself now.

Another policy that deserves the same type of overwhelming bipartisan support is Louisville Rep. Ken Fleming’s proposal to conduct an inventory of state government with the goal of cutting wasteful duplication and costs of services.

Fleming’s House Joint Resolution 35 directs the Finance and Administration Cabinet to determine what services currently are provided by each department or agency, the price tag of those services and “the feasibility of privatizing, consolidating, or otherwise changing those functions and services to achieve costs savings.”

Based on his experience as a small-business owner and former Louisville Metro Council member, Fleming told me he believes there’s a “silo mentality approach to government operations” which too often results in “a lack of truly understanding the cost of delivering services,” as well as duplication of delivery of services – some of which government should not even be doing.

“Government cannot be run as a business, but it sure can embrace a lot of business applications,” Fleming said.

That’s an idea both sides of the political aisle can – and should – embrace.

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

 

Bluegrass Beacon: Fearmongering fails with free-market reforms

BluegrassBeaconLogoEditor’s note: Senate Bill 10, which moves forward with properly deregulating the telecommunications industry in Kentucky passed the Senate 35-1 and the House of Representatives 75-13 and awaits Gov. Matt Bevin’s signature.

The political left’s preferred pattern is to consign conservatism to the wilderness with obituaries of its much-ballyhooed demise abounding, signaling: it’s time to bury all hope of returning to the constitutional republic our founders intended.

When that doesn’t work – like when disruptors of the status quo took over the Kentucky House in November and began resurrecting ideas about returning this commonwealth to a free-market economy and the Constitution for which it stands – the preferred tactic of the left also resurrects: fearmongering.

The scaremongering was on full display throughout Betsy DeVos’ confirmation process as Education Secretary.

Senators and celebrities alike, many of whom attended – and send their own kids to – elite private schools, predicted gloom, despair and agony for public schools because DeVos wants to give all parents the same opportunity to choose a better education for primarily at-risk students that these hypocritical school-choice opponents’ rich kids enjoy.

I was reminded why I quit watching Comedy Central when I saw actress Ilana Glazer’s tweet: “It’s heinous, the school system was already so broken – this is murdering it.”

“Avengers” director Joss Whedon claimed DeVos and her supporters “declared war on our children.”

Liberal senators responded with similar vitriol. Washington Sen. Patty Murray, a Democrat, called the Michigan philanthropist’s nomination “a slap in the face.”

But America’s had charter schools for a quarter-century yet Chicken Little isn’t showing up on Public Education Street.

In fact, the best research shows that once students attend charter schools for at least three consecutive years, they usually begin to academically outperform their peers in regular public schools.

There have been no reported sightings of C.L. on other streets, either.

It wasn’t that long ago, for instance, that the rhetoric of fear could be heard clanging up and down Telecom Reform Street claiming regulatory improvements passed by the legislature in 2015 would leave vulnerable Kentuckians in rural regions without basic phone service.

“They won’t even be able to call 911,” Chicken Little clucked.

I put a call into C.L. on my new LG phone – at least where I could locate a signal – asking him to find me a single Kentuckian who lost basic phone service because of the 2015 reforms.

“Well, at the very least,” clucked C.L. Fearmonger, “they will harm, not help, Kentuckians.”

Tell that to entrepreneurs in Louisville now able to start home-based businesses or to students doing major projects online who now have access to larger and faster residential gigabit service. With increased investment, similar access will soon be coming to other parts of Kentucky.

Yet while Kentucky’s telecommunications reforms in 2015 were a good start, three years is a lifetime in technology.

The commonwealth must follow the example of every other southern state by fully updating its telecom regulations.

Otherwise, we will continue losing out on very large investments by telecommunications companies less interested than ever in diverting resources toward maintaining old technology to satisfy rotary-dial regulations instead of building advanced, next-generation networks for all Kentuckians.

Other states, including neighboring Indiana and Tennessee, long ago eliminated onerous regulations like those that remain wrapped like anvils around the ankles of Kentucky’s progress.

This year’s legislative session can make history by removing the regulatory fetters and providing incentives to accelerate increased investment in Kentucky’s telecom infrastructure and making certain all Kentuckians – whatever their street – have access to the information superhighway.

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

Bluegrass Beacon: Set the table for a school-choice buffet

BluegrassBeaconLogoPresident Donald Trump’s administration is taking some cues from the productive Kentucky Legislature.

After a frenetic first week of the 2017 session of the Kentucky General Assembly during which seven bills were passed, the new Trump administration offered a proportional amount of accomplishment during its first five days in the White House.

Trump took 15 major actions in his first five days, including steps toward ending Obamacare and withdrawing the nation from the Trans-Pacific Partnership – a victory for Kentucky farmers, who grow more than 87,000 acres of tobacco annually.

I called for both actions in this column during the recent election season.

The Obama administration embedded its hatred of the tobacco companies into the 12-nation TPP deal, excluding these firms from protections available to all other industries against foreign governments taking property without compensation or seizing assets in the name of “public health.”

While the deal contained some attractive tax and tariff cuts, it’s unacceptable to single out a specific industry and its legal product based on ideology and the running amok of political correctness.

Still, it’s important for our nation’s security and for Kentucky farmers and manufacturers to maintain a strong, open trading relationship with willing countries.

As Frederic Bastiat, the great 19th century free-market French economist, believed: “If goods don’t cross borders, armies will.”

Democrats who lost the Kentucky House on the same night they turned over the keys to the White House complain about the feverish pace of it all.

Yet most of the legislation debated and passed in Frankfort during the first week in January – right-to-work, repeal of costly prevailing-wage mandates on public construction projects, making part-time politicians’ pensions transparent and pro-life bills – had been debated and passed by the state Senate for years.

School-choice legislation also fits that scenario.

It’s likely this session won’t end before Kentucky becomes the 44th state with a charter-school law and perhaps also the 18th state to turn tax-credit-friendly donations into scholarships allowing children from countless numbers of families access to a private education.

Louisville Rep. Phil Moffett’s charter-school legislation would offer Kentucky’s kids the opportunity to attend schools that will allow them, in many cases, to break the cycle of generations of poverty, illiteracy and failure.

Opponents continue to offer recycled claims about how empowering parents to choose the school that best fits their children’s educational needs somehow is a vast right-wing conspiracy to destroy public education.

But wait a sec’.

Charter schools are public schools.

Along with the reality that policies like Moffett’s bill haven’t caused an implosion of public education in those 43 other states is the expectation hardworking taxpayers have when they fork over their hard-earned dollars – $10.1 billion designated for K-12 schools in the commonwealth’s current biennial budget.

They want their money used for educating children, not propping up failing systems or sustaining jobs programs for adults.

While discussing his bill at a recent education forum in an inner-city church in West Louisville, Moffett told the largely minority crowd: it’s time to take a cue from its neighbor to the North.

Indiana is changing its approach – “to thinking about public education, not public-school systems,” the former GOP gubernatorial candidate said.

The shift has resulted in many more options for Hoosier State parents – from charter schools to vouchers to tax-credit scholarships and even individual tax credits for private-school enrollment and tax deductions for homeschooling families.

The Hoosier State has one of America’s biggest school-choice buffets and fastest-growing economies.

Kentucky will take major steps toward setting its table with the same kind of spread with similar results when it gets back in the kitchen on Feb. 7.

It can’t happen fast enough.

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

Bluegrass Beacon: Statesmen embrace ‘loftier objectives’

BluegrassBeaconLogoDid you hear the one about the Texas great-grandmother, who, two days before her recent 92nd birthday, laced up her orthopedic shoes and then jumped out of an airplane?

Phyllis Guthrie, who earned a doctorate degree at age 78 before climbing a mountain in the Alps at age 82, isn’t ready to settle for making the afternoon Bridge game at the Waterview Senior Living Center in Granbury, Texas, the highlight of each of her remaining days.

So she jumped.

“If George Bush can do it, then so can I,” she told Fort Worth Star-Telegram reporter Sarah Bahari, referencing the former president’s sky dive to celebrate his 90th birthday.

The world needs more Phyllis Guthries with long bucket lists and fewer people content to live vicariously through others’ feats.

We also need more statesman and fewer unremarkable politicians at all levels of government.

Too many politicians seek office for the thrill of the ride and the notoriety and power it brings.

What we consider “good politicians” often are those who simply have figured out how to manipulate the levers of power primarily for personal gain and without any real intention of accomplishment.

“The statesman’s allegiance is to loftier objectives,” Lawrence W. Reed, president of the Foundation for Economic education, wrote in an essay outlining the characteristics of true statesmanship versus the mediocre politics we see too much of today.

Many of the eligible voters who stay home on Election Day have made it clear: they would engage if office seekers at least aspired to act in a more statesman-like, less-partisan manner.

It would also reconfigure Washington and Frankfort in ways that would make both of those cities – and the policies emanating from them – look and function much differently.

What if, for example, we had more men and women who already had accomplished much in their own lives and were willing to sacrificially take time away from those endeavors to serve the general welfare, instead of folks seeking to hold on to power for what they can get out of it or because it’s the only kind of work they know?

How different is a statesman like the ancient Cincinnatus, who would have contentedly remained anonymous in the annals of history, enjoying life on the outskirts of Rome in the fifth century with his wife Racilia on their three-acre farm.

However, when the Roman Senate called, he answered, dropping his plow to become the nation’s all-powerful military leader in order to deliver the city of Rome itself from vicious tribal armies at its gates.

Cincinnatus could have reveled in power and riches for the rest of his life with absolutely no worries of being term-limited. Instead, he relinquished power and returned to his farm after a mere 15 days.

America had its own Cincinnatus in George Washington.

Washington like his historical counterpart attained near-mythical status, not just due to the fact that he led the fledgling Continental Army to against-all-odds victory over the British Redcoats or even because he served as the nation’s first president.

He was admired and respected by his fellow Americans because of his genuine statesmanship demonstrated by not just a willingness but an eagerness to relinquish power.

Washington rejected Connecticut Gov. Jonathan Trumbull Jr.’s attempts to convince him to run for a third term as commander-in-chief, writing to the governor that he wanted to avoid being “charged … with concealed ambition.”

Great-grandma Guthrie said she jumped out of that plane because she wants her family and friends to have a way to remember her.

“I want to leave a legacy,” she said.

While there are many qualities of statesmanship, none results in a richer contribution to momentous legacies than men and women who leave lives of individual accomplishments, genuinely sacrifice for the good of others and seek only enough power – holding on to it only long enough – to complete their assignments.

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.bipps.org.

Bluegrass Beacon – Teachers and their pensions: Doing the math

BluegrassBeaconLogoLots of retired teachers bared their angry fists at me following my recent column about the soon-to-retire public school administrator who will, if he fulfills life expectancy, collect pension checks for longer than he worked, enjoy annual cost-of-living increases and amass a KTRS-funded $5.6 million fortune by retiring at 49 years of age after working 27 years.

“Please be accurate rather than (highlight) one exceptional pensioner!” one retired emailer scolded.

However, it behooves all of my retired-teacher friends to remember: the same shrinking KTRS kitty that’s billions upside down yet which they depend upon for their own pensions is the very same plan struggling to fork over the money for that administrator’s lavish benefits.

Yet while highly paid superintendents and principals have both hands in Kentucky’s pension pot, some basic mathematics reveals that many retired teachers overdo it with claims of humble pensions.

According to Daviess County Public Schools’ published certified salary schedules for the past three years:

  • Rank 1 teachers with at least 21 years of experience earned gross salaries of $62,364, $62,988 and $64,248, respectively, during the three most recent years – presumably their three highest annual salaries – for a total of $189,600 and an average of $63,200.
  • Daviess County teachers who spend 33 years in the classroom and retire in their mid-fifties with those three highest years of salary will, according to the KTRS website’s own “Benefit Estimator,” receive a total service credit – a complicated part of the pension formula used to determine retirees’ benefits – of 84 percent. (The total service credit is established through multiplying the first 30 years by a 2.5 percent per-year service credit and the final three years by an enhanced annual 3-percent credit and combining those totals.)
  • The average salary of $63,200 multiplied by the 84 percent service credit results in a $53,088 gross annual – or $4,424 monthly – pension check.

Sounds reasonable so far, right?

Let the unreasonableness begin:

  • According to KRS 161.155, 33-year employees are allowed 10 sick days a year and can count up to 300 unused ones toward their annual salaries used to determine their retirements.
  • State law requires that 30 percent of the total amount of the average daily salary of these 300 days be incorporated to decide a retiring teacher’s final annual salary. KRS 161.623 dictates this be done by dividing the teacher’s salary in the final year he or she worked “by one hundred eighty-five (185) days.”
  • The final year’s salary in Daviess County of $64,248 divided by 185 days reveals per-day pay of $347.29. Teachers who accumulate half – or 150 – of those days at the end of their career boost their pensions by $15,628, giving them annual retirement payments of $68,409, or $5,701 monthly.
  • None of this even includes the annual cost-of-living increases (COLAs) and rich, but nearly free, health-care benefits KTRS recipients receive.
  • “But we don’t get Social Security,” I can hear even now as fists shake faster and angrier. True. I will have some thoughts in a future column on how to remedy that policy in favor of KTRS and the taxpayers.

This brief mathematical study shows that Daviess County teachers who save even half of their sick days will receive more in gross pension benefits during their first year of retirement than in the final year they worked.

If they fulfill their life expectancy, they will amass more than $2.1 million in taxpayer-backed retirement bucks – plus tens of thousands of additional dollars in the form of health-insurance benefits and COLAs for a lifetime. (Those benefits are not even included in the above numbers.)

The burden of a system allowing teachers – or any public worker, for that matter – to retire in their mid-fifties and collect hefty public-pension, health care and cost-of-living checks is funded by taxpayers struggling to make ends meet in their own homes, and who, if they even have a retirement plan, are largely funding it themselves.

Plus, they’re certainly working more than 185 days a year.

Who should be angry here?

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.bipps.org.