By JEFF JOBE
Kentucky citizens were handed something last week that has been needed for decades: A clear, to the point detail of how the pension crisis will very shortly affect every single Kentuckian.
This detailed approach is setting a foundation for a discussion regarding truth.
Being a man who is entering his 20th year of often being alone in reporting truth, there are few things more factual than the fact that some people just can’t handle the truth.
I commend Governor Matt Bevin for taking his positions to the people of Kentucky through press releases, identifying and limiting contact with biased enemies and even his most recent testing of the waters of live social media feeds.
I’m reminded of Jack Nicholson’s portrayal of Col. Nathan Jessup in A Few Good Men when he said, “You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth!” If you saw the movie you know Jessup didn’t get the results he was looking for after his outburst and if you watched the Governor’s live feed you will probably agree the Governor might have felt he was in the same position, speaking with people who couldn’t handle the truth.
Exposing himself, although noble to discussions of the intricacies of the pension problem is not in the best interest of the Governor. Why would he take a position on details so minute as where priority falls for paying a retiring teacher for accumulated sick-leave days or not? He should instead keep focused on pushing legislators, to do their jobs to detail any potential tightening.
Without a doubt, Bevin made a good call last week by releasing to the media a copy of the letter his Budget Director John Chilton mailed to all government entities participating in the (CERS) County Employee Retirement System.
For the first time, tax payers are made aware of what is coming our way if something doesn’t change quickly. Let me explain it to you in as few words as possible: major tax increases are coming this year and will be repeated many years into the future unless things don’t change drastically.
Legislators, Judge Executives, Mayors, magistrates and city council members are dishonoring not only the tax payer, but every employee who is paying into the retirement system and every single family who is already receiving payments by allowing the systems to be abused.
In order to protect tax payers there must be city, county, and state expense and entitlement reductions and this will come in the form of changes in the laws to stop the abuses we all know are not right.
Take a look at this week’s charts associated with the front page story regarding pension shortfalls. There is not a single city or county branch participating in the retirement program adequately funded and I can’t think of a city or county who hasn’t already raised taxes or perhaps created a new one in the past 12 months.
As a proponent of truth, let me share a few of the reasons for shortfall I have witnessed over the past 20 years that have sure driven costs unnecessarily. The problem is quite simple; we have less money coming in than going out and what is going out is growing at a faster rate than income.
Amazingly, the last administration promised it had been taken care of and all was fine. Now here we are a few years later and boom, it’s worse than ever. This is a reality of elected government officials; to stay in office they usually present voters with a positive outlook and when challenging those in power they promise to fix it.
The promise to fix it seems to have worked for the Republicans and Governor Bevin’s prime objective is to get policy passed and sent to him for approval that will stop kicking this financial burden down the road to our children.
I believe Bevin can do it because he has already shown his dedication to honoring his campaign pledges and this is without a doubt the most important for the long term financial stability of all Kentucky families.
This issue is not at all a Democrat problem, although they were in power for decades and did nothing to address it. It is a problem at all levels and all political parties must own it. City, county and state government put into place changes that caused much of the predicted shortfalls and our legislators sat and watched it happen.
For the past 20 years I have watched as boards refuse to manage government employees in effective manners such as allowing overtime to be scheduled for employees who actually sleep on the clock and can you believe these overtime paydays are used in calculations of retirements, heck throw in some hazardous duty pay and you have a person potentially retiring at 45, with full pay and health benefits for his family.
More times than not, a person who retires at 45 or 50 isn’t really ready to go fishing; this retirement is about their personal finances. The same legislators who allowed the above examples of abusing our retirement systems are also allowing these early retired individuals to return to the very same jobs in some form of contract labor or part-time basis. This is called double-dipping and it must stop because it has removed an opportunity for upward mobility inside the department, stopped another person entering government who could bring new ideas and with board members having business experience we could even pass along savings to the bottom line.
Allowing government employees to retire at 45, 50 or 55 in non-physical jobs knowing the US government is mandating non-government citizens to retirement at 65 or 66 should have never been allowed to happen and I am comfortable these changes were made behind doors, or without the full attention of the general public and without a doubt never put to a vote.
Numerous times over those years I have witnessed county government encourage new taxing districts to take over services and ignore offers to allow private entities to assume operations. These offers are ignored because the private company doesn’t offer the OT, hazardous duty pay and early retirements. Legislators are either ignoring private employees facing terrible hazards or they are allowing government to unnecessarily give the perk. It should be fixed one way or the other; all men should be treated equal.
Let me take a few words to explain what happens when we have a Judge-Executive, Mayor, Magistrates and City Council establish a new taxing district. Say we set up a new Ambulance tax or Waste Water Management fee. The dollars currently being expensed through the general budget are no longer needed because our new taxing district now cover these expenses. So literally, the city and county budget just found hundreds of thousands of dollars with no expense line requirement and unless they manage effectively these dollars make their way into growing city and county expenses. While the tax payer is now being taxed for services they were already getting.
As we know Governor Bevin and legislators in office at this time have done much to increase competitive bidding by making Kentucky a Right to Work state and doing away with prevailing wage requirements but laws at this level mean nothing if we don’t have Judge Executives, Mayors, Magistrates, Council Members and the boards they appoint not committed to making government managers honor our laws and seek opportunities to save money.
This week I have read in other newspapers, comments from county executives and city officials making statements about how bad it is going to be if the state legislature doesn’t fix it. I smile as they prepare to pass the buck completely and already begin to say, “we are forced to raise taxes.” Beware of the politician who can’t accept responsibility.
My question would be directed to all officials and ask: “What are you doing to get ready for it?” Who knows, I think it might be nice to know where they stand on some of the examples mentioned above before the next election cycle.
The next few months are going to be extremely challenging and what I share today, just as in what Governor Bevin was attempting in his live Facebook feed; opportunities to see if you can handle the truth.
Jeff Jobe is founder and CEO of Jobe Publishing, Inc. His commentary reflects his personal views and does not reflect the views of personal or professional associations and affiliations. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his previously published commentary at www.jobeforkentucky.com