Pension bill an urgent issue for legislators

Just as it was last year and last week, the state’s pension crisis continues to be the commonwealth’s most significant problem.

Sooner or later, state legislators must introduce a bill that addresses the issue or experience the symptoms of which Gov. Matt Bevin has warned — “The money will run out. The checks will stop.”

In Bevin’s address to the legislature in mid-January, he outlined a budget that, though couched nicely in his speech, would be detrimental to many areas of state government.

Simply put, Bevin’s proposal committed to fully fund the pension system. Deep spending cuts will be needed to make that happen without raising revenue. Sure, Bevin said tax reform is coming, but that’s a broad-enough phrase that the contents of any future proposal are unclear.

Bevin’s speech is old hat. Those who pay attention to state politics are well aware of the basics of the budget problem that stem from the state’s massively underfunded pension and are compounded by lower-than-expected revenue. Bevin’s speech in January, however, proposed a solution, and at this moment the chief matter of concern is that the public is still waiting for the state legislature to finally introduce a pension bill.

It’s not that legislators are ignoring their basic job duties. Bills are still being passed through both chambers.

Between the time Bevin gave his budget-focused speech and Tuesday, more than one bill has been introduced, passed three readings in one chamber and moved to the other. H.B. 213 is one such example.

Introduced on Jan. 18, H.B. 213 passed its third reading Jan 29. It was assigned to the Senate’s Health and Welfare Committee on Jan. 31. The measure — which passed the House by an 89-0 vote — makes small but important changes to prescription drug monitoring information.

While we’d encourage both bodies of the legislature to continue their work on bills such as H.B. 213, it’s of critical importance that legislators begin to show a sense of urgency by introducing a pension bill and beginning public debate.

Last year, Bevin raised the possibility of a special session on pension reform multiple times. Last week, acting House Speaker David Osborne said a bill could be filed early this week.

Now, we’re about 40 percent of the way through the regular session, and we’re still without a bill.

Sure, it’s a complicated task. An ideal proposal would be multifaceted — fully funding the state’s pension system and avoiding the types of austere cuts included in Bevin’s proposal by raising revenue. But the people of Kentucky elected legislators to tackle the kinds of complicated questions that surround the budget.

It’s possible a bill could be introduced today, and we’d finally know details of the legislature’s initial proposal. Perhaps there would still be ample time to pass a good bill during the regular session. For now, however, we’re left waiting for our state legislators to take action.

— The State Journal