Sunday, June 01, 2008

Much barking, no biting on fringe benefit reform

If you were just reading editorial headlines Sunday, you might think Kentucky was ready to demand action from Frankfort on the $26 billion public pension disaster. The Louisville Courier Journal bellowed "Pension reform, now" and the Paducah Sun screamed, simply, "NOW." The Lexington Herald Leader said "Light a fire under legislature," but they were talking about raising taxes.

We are never going to get anywhere on fixing the mess caused by decades of overpaying our government employees at the rate we are going.

The Sun said "Beshear is less likely than his ineffective predecessor to let the legislature dictate the terms of a special session. Something tells us he’s going to finally bring about long-overdue pension reform."

Their optimism is misplaced. We need to join 12-step recovering addicts by first admitting that we have been overpaying public employees for a long time. Otherwise, cutting benefits slightly today probably just means they will go back up later. That's just kicking the can down the road.

Now that more people are starting to pay attention to this, we need to shift the discussion to consideration of phasing out pensions for legislators. Eliminating this conflict of interest might help lawmakers keep clear heads about driving us out of the benefits ditch and inspire them to stay out.

Allowing legislators to take executive branch jobs and pick up a huge pension boost should be an easy mistake to reverse. Repealing the expensive part of HB 299 from 2005 would show significant good will.

Color me skeptical.