By Don Weber
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FRANKFORT – Now that the time for a special session has passed, the big question in Frankfort is how long it will take to pass a pension reform bill once lawmakers return to the state Capitol on January 2.
Public Pension Oversight board chair Sen. Joe Bowen, R-Owensboro, believes that the Senate has a workable solution, but time will tell as to when it will be passed by both chambers.
“We’ve got what we think is good language, comprehensive language, language in a bill that considers all or most of the requests made by those folks that are going to be impacted by the legislation most directly, and that of course are folks either in the system or retired from the system,” Bowen said.
Bowen was disappointed that pension reform was not done in a special session this fall, because the upcoming budget is going to be dependent on what the pension bill looks like.
That’s why Bowen says that it will be imperative that pensions be dealt with as soon as possible in 2018.
“That’s been the plan all along that we do need to expedite this, this obviously needs to be a front burner issue,” Bowen said. “Quite frankly, I’m of the school of thought if we don’t get this done the first two weeks of the session; the potential for any type of reform begins to diminish exponentially.”
Some have suggested that tax reform should have been dealt with before the governor and General Assembly took on pension reform.
Bowen has heard that criticism but feels that tackling pension reform first was the correct decision.
“I’m going to go back to the old adage that if you’re in a hole, the first thing you need to do is quit digging, and what reform does is stops the digging,” Bowen said. “We need to know where the bottom of this hole is so we know how much money we’ve got to pour into the hole to fill it up, so it thin it makes good sense to go through the reform exercise before prying into tax reform and how we might identify money to pay off these liabilities.”
Another question addressed by Bowen is where additional revenue sources come from to help fund the pension liabilities.
“I think if we had a more modern tax code, and we identified some of these exemptions that we talked about, that would be revenue enhancement,” Bowen said. “Let me say this, I get just as money emails from people saying please do not increase taxes, I’m living paycheck to paycheck, I can’t handle any more taxes in any way, shape, form or fashion.”
Bowen believes that whatever the final pension bill will look like, all agencies of state government can expect significant cuts to their budgets.