The time to end the public sector pension crisis in Kentucky is long overdue. And while everyone agrees that the public sector pension crisis has reached unmanageable levels, the solution should be something other than simply eliminating public sector pensions across the board, a solution which should be a mix of options which will ensure a future workforce willing to invest in careers in public sector jobs, jobs which are critical to the future viability of Kentucky.
Although the Bevin administration would like everyone to believe that those responsible for this pension crisis are the greedy public sector employees, employees who are not willing to give up the pensions they were promised when they accepted employment with state and local governments, nothing could be further from the truth. The inescapable truth it that the public sector pension crisis has nothing to do with any decisions made by public employees, instead, the blame for the public sector pension crisis is the result of decisions made by politicians and political appointees who have made irresponsible decisions, knowing that when the time came to pay the piper, they would have already ridden off into the sunset.
So, let’s ask that rhetorical question of what caused Kentucky’s public sector pension crisis. At the risk of oversimplifying the reason(s) for the pension crisis, there is only one answer to the question and that is that the crisis is the fault of years of irresponsible decisions by irresponsible politicians from both sides of the aisle. Given the opportunity to respond to a survey of who really is responsible for the public sector pension crisis, it is likely that most Kentuckians would answer the survey question with a resounding indictment of irresponsible politicians, politicians who line the state budgets with unnecessary, pork-barrel projects, projects which are nothing more than a means to get a politician’s name on the corner of a building, a road or bridge named in their honor, or simply a way to get reelected.
One thing is certain, and that is the uncontroverted fact that one crisis is not solved by creating another crisis. So, if the solution in Frankfort, the solution of the Bevin administration to the pension crisis is to take away public sector pensions without a replacement, then the next crisis will be an inability of state government to find those willing to fill the hundreds of public sector positions, positions which are critical to the daily operation of the state. Of course, it just might be that the irresponsible way that politicians have already handled the pension crisis may have already set off a chain reaction of those who have abandoned any thoughts of a career path in public employment, a career path where the only guarantee should be an expectation of broken promises.
Of course, for today’s generation of politicians, they really do not have anything to worry about. You see, for the most part those who have solved the public sector pension crisis by eliminating public sector pensions will be long gone before the next crisis lands on the desks of the next generation of politicians. And then, the new generation of politicians will be able to place the blame on those who preceded them in office, which is nothing more than an excuse, much less a solution.
So, can anything be done to solve the public pension crisis short of just eliminating public sector pensions? Well, the answer should be a resounding yes. There are solutions, solutions which will require courageous, not irresponsible politicians; solutions which will require belt tightening; solutions which will require future changes to the public pension system, changes which would be implemented prior to someone accepting public sector employment; and, solutions which will require a combination of tax increases, the issuance of bonds, and the elimination of millions of dollars of unnecessary pork-barrel projects.
Most importantly, if Kentuckians are going to find solutions to the public sector pension crisis it will require true leadership and politicians who are willing to engage in a discussion about solutions to the public sector pensions, not politicians who refuse to even listen to others about possible solutions. And if all else fails, every Kentuckian has the option of electing politicians willing to solve our public sector pension crisis. In the words of James A. Garfield, the 20th President of the United States, “The ballot box is the surest arbiter of disputes of free men.”
In the end, if Kentuckians truly desire a solution to the public sector pension crisis, maybe, just maybe, it is time for a change, it is time to elect politicians who will listen and offer solutions, not politicians who subscribe to the old idiom of “my way or the highway.” Instead of fighting each other, maybe it is time to adopt the words of Margaret Mead, America’s renowned cultural anthropologist, when she wrote, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, that is the only thing that ever has.” The time has come for a small group of thoughtful, committed people, not just simply politicians, willing to sit down and find a solution, a change, to the public sector pension crisis, a crisis which is not, and never was, the fault of public sector employees.