FRANKFORT, Ky. (2/10/13) - We are back in session, and this might prove to be the toughest yet for me as a State Representative.
Pension reform legislation in the House will be vetted by the House State Government Committee, of which I am the new Chairman and which oversaw the Kentucky Public Pensions Task Force and its 2012 study of the state pension system along with the Senate State and Local Government Committee. I have spent the past few weeks meeting daily with stakeholders in the pension system, including state employees, county officials, mental health professionals and retirement system officials, House leadership, the state Personnel Cabinet and many others gaining perspective on this complicated issue. One thing is certain: Any pension bill the House passes will likely be different than what was proposed by the task force last year— “shored up,” so to speak—to address all concerns.
We must act on this issue now, I believe, not later; just last week, Standard and Poor’s downgraded the state credit rating mostly because of the state’s underfunding of the pension system which needs at least $300 million immediately just to meet the actuarial required contribution, (or ARC) for the current budget cycle. Any bill we put forward as the House must settle pension debt and recommend changes in pension benefits for future hires who will enter the system. We will work to ensure that changes involving future employees are written in such a way that those employees are satisfied with the outcome.
It is not unusual for issues like pension reform, in which the state has much at stake financially, to overshadow other legislation in a 30-day short regular session. It seems that one or two big legislative battles inevitably consume most of the lawmakers’ time and energy in the end. But, also per usual, there are many other bills pending this session which are regarded as important, either for specific constituencies or the entire Commonwealth.
Lawmakers in the House alone hurried to introduce over 110 bills for consideration last Tuesday, our first day back in session after a scheduled three-week break. Down the hall in the Senate, around 80 bills were introduced that day. With Tuesday being the 5th day of this 30-day “short session,” it seems everyone wanted to make sure their proposal was filed as early as possible to give it the best chance for passage before the session’s end in late March.
Many of the bills introduced in the House that first day back were sent to committee for a vote almost immediately, including a measure that would hold special taxing districts and similar entities more accountable to the taxpayers on whom their revenue relies. That bill, given the coveted designation of House Bill 1 by its sponsor, House Speaker Greg Stumbo, will eventually allow taxpayers to track the finances and whereabouts of these districts online. HB 1 was approved by the House Local Government Committee last Wednesday afternoon with bipartisan support and is expected to be voted on by the full House very soon.
Approval was also granted last week to HB 7, sponsored by Speaker Stumbo and House Appropriations and Revenue Committee Chairman Rep. Rick Rand, D-Bedford. The bill, if passed, would authorize approximately $363 million in agency bonds for construction projects at six of the state’s public universities. State government would not be responsible for the bond debt assumed by the schools according to the bill, which passed the House by a 97-1 vote last Thursday and was sent to the Senate for consideration.
One reason why universities have come to lawmakers this session seeking bonding authority for select projects on their campus is the state’s slow economic growth for years. Kentucky’s current budget has the lowest level of new bonding in recent memory, in part before of lagging state General Fund revenues that state budget experts say grew by only 2.5 percent between 2000-2010—the slowest growth in state revenues by decade since the 1940s. Moreover, state tax collections have been in decline in Kentucky for 18 years, state budget officials told a joint meeting of the House and Senate budget committees last week.
Those budget officials along with Lt. Gov. Jerry Abramson presented recommendations to the committee from last year’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Tax Reform and encouraged lawmakers to reach consensus on tax reform in the current year. The call to agreement was reiterated by the governor the next night in his State of the Commonwealth address, in which he said tax reform and pension reform—which is necessary to correct a more than $19 billion combined shortfall in the state’s six pension plans—“go together.” And, while many say that the required “supermajority”, or 3/5 vote, of the membership of both the House and Senate to pass any bill that raises revenue or appropriates money in an odd-year regular session could likely limit reform efforts, many powerbrokers at the State Capitol agree that a consensus on both tax and pension reform must be reached this year, if not this session.
Twenty two legislative days remained in the session as of last Friday, and there is much to do. I assure you that the 2013 General Assembly has the resolve to do what is needed, and will do what we can, as this session progresses. Talk to you next week.
Please stay safe and keep your loved ones and friends safe, should severe storms or tornadoes arise. And have a good week.
Rep. Brent Yonts
Disclaimer: The content supplied by columnists and letters to the Editor on this site does not in any way, shape or form, implied or otherwise, necessarily express or suggest endorsement or support of any of such content, statement, or opinions therein. SurfKY News does not necessarily adhere to or endorse content provided by outside non-staff sources.
Copyright 2013 SurfKY News Group, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
|< Prev||Next >|