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Dec. 2, 2010 editorial: A bill worth a second look

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Legislator's pension initiative should be considered

By The Staff

Regardless of their merit, some bills proposed in the General Assembly never receive serious discussion or consideration.
One overlooked measure from the 2010 legislative session has been refiled and deserves consideration and passage. It deals with state pensions for future legislators.
Elected state senators and representatives have an opportunity to reduce future obligations on a stressed state budget while setting an example of sacrifice. House Bill 54 was reintroduced in late October and assigned to an interim committee. It is scheduled to be introduced Jan. 5 to the House’s State Government Committee when legislators reconvene.
It would eliminate access to the state retirement system for future legislators. In effect, the measure would recognize the part-time status of elected officials and erase their access to full-time benefits available to state workers and teachers.
When the 2005 legislature gave its members access to retirement systems designed for employees, it encouraged outgoing members to grab state jobs. Because the retirement obligation is based on the highest three years of an individual’s pay, the state now has six-figure retirement obligations to these one-time part-timers.
House Bill 54 would create a defined contribution plan, similar to employer-matched 401k investments. The bill also clarifies that the plan would not create an inviolable contract with the state, allowing future modification.
Among the many pressures on Kentucky’s governmental budget are retirement obligations owed to past employees and being accrued for current workers. Many private businesses have moved from traditional retirement obligations because of the inability to sustain such fiscal demands. While it may not legally be possible or ethical to erase previous commitments, the state must consider reducing adding to the financial pinch.  
Before a penny can be spent on schools, roads or public safety, the state budget process must commit to obligations owed former employees. Court decisions require the General Assembly to account for retirement commitments first.
Hardin County could lead the charge. The four Republican legislators sponsoring the bill includes C.B. Embry Jr. and Tim Moore, who represent parts of Hardin County. Senator-elect Dennis Parrett also defined the topic as an issue of concern in his campaign.
The entire local legislative delegation is encouraged to review and consider this bill. In tight economic times, difficult decisions about compensation must be made. However, asking legislators to police their own chambers does not seem a difficult choice.
The General Assembly can set an example and take a step toward reasonableness.
But nothing is likely to happen without some noise from the voting public too. In conversations and calls, in letters and e-mails, voters need to direct their attention to this measure.
Otherwise, House Bill 54 is likely to languish just as it did in the last session.

This editorial represents a consensus of The News-Enterprise editorial board.