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Bluegrass Beacon: Avoid ‘fatal’ delay-of-game penalties for needed policies

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

It’s coincidental, of course, that legislative sessions in Kentucky begin immediately following the climax of the sports season for the commonwealth’s rabid fans, including the annual titanic-like struggle between the Cards and Cats on the hardwood.

This year, we fervent football followers throughout the commonwealth had the added pleasure of enjoying actual relevance among the buffet of holiday games as the University of Kentucky football team spread icing on the cake celebrating its best regular season in four decades with a New Year’s Day Citrus Bowl win over tradition-rich Penn State Orlando, Florida.

How could this Kentucky General Assembly session starting at Noon on Jan. 8 – six days and 23 hours following the UK-Penn State kickoff – do this football team and their fans proud with its best session in modern legislative history?

  • Genuine pension reform is critical.

Just like UK football coach Mark Stoops’ players not only knows the plays but could do them in their sleep – as indicated by the team’s 10 wins this year – neither has the pension-reform playbook changed .It only had to be adjusted following the Kentucky Supreme Court’s decision that Senate Bill 151 (SB 151) passed during the 2018 session was unconstitutional.

Good teams adjust and still make the plays needed to win one for our children and grandchildren, who will be forced to pay the bills for Kentucky’s huge pension debt if the anti-reform opposition succeeds. While many more reforms are ultimately needed than were included in SB 151, the most important play for lawmakers to execute in the 2019 legislative session is to pass a new retirement plan for new teachers in a clean bill.

Opponents may legally challenge changes affecting current members of the state’s retirement systems, but they can’t apply their “a pension is a promise” chant to future teachers who have yet to be hired or promised anything.

Rivals of reform are counting on legislators getting worn down by the adversity of past attempts.

But if the UK basketball team can overcome such a sluggish start to pound a North Carolina team ranked 10 spots higher, our legislators can, by enduring and advancing genuine pension reforms, seize a critical victory for future generations.

  • Fund charter schools.

Just like Coach Stoops and his staff study video of their opponents and do their best to gain a competitive edge, so Kentucky – which is woefully behind most other states when it comes to school-choice policies in general and charter schools in particular – must fund charters in order to regain a competitive advantage.

While the legislature in 2017 passed a weak bill that at least theoretically enabled the creation of charters – public schools run differently than traditional schools and where parents choose to enroll children – not a single charter school exists in Kentucky because no funding was provided for them.

Arguably, passing a measure to fund charter schools during the 2019 General Assembly will require a two-thirds majority in the House and Senate.

The lines were tested and held in November’s election, clearing the way for the House to make this play.

Republicans, including many who support bringing charter schools to Kentucky, maintained their supermajority in Frankfort, have Gov. Matt Bevin firmly in their camp on this issue and thus should be able to get this ball across the goal line.

Considering political winds could get turbulent in this gubernatorial election year, waiting too long could result in – as sports talk might put it – a fatal delay-of-game penalty.

Jim Waters is president and CEO of the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Read previous columns at He can be reached at and @bipps on Twitter.

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