FRANKFORT – With Christmas arriving early next week, time is drawing short for those who’d still like to fit in a Kentucky-themed holiday activity.
The good news is that there are still plenty of destinations across the commonwealth for those willing to travel.
The Louisville Mega Cavern, for example, features two-million points of light and bills itself as the world’s only underground Christmas-light display that you actually drive through. The Southern Lights at the Kentucky Horse Park, meanwhile, is another unique lighted tour; this one, which is now in its 25th year, stretches over four miles.
Further up the road, the Newport Aquarium has the Water Wonderland with Scuba Santa, and Grant County’s Ark Encounter has constructed the world’s largest Glice rink, which features synthetic ice that can be skated on regardless of temperature.
Although many of our state parks have wrapped up their Christmas programs this year, it’s worth remembering them when the 2019 holiday season arrives. Families can have breakfast or supper with Santa or the Grinch; tour open houses; and visit historical re-creations of the season at such sites as My Old Kentucky Home and Fort Boonesborough. Many of the state resort parks also have New Year’s Eve events.
If you’re among those still searching for gift ideas, one possible solution is to buy something produced locally. Those can be found here in our community, of course, but they are also available in such places as Berea’s Kentucky Artisan Center, which features the work of hundreds of artists.
To switch gears, I want to end by commenting briefly on last Thursday’s unanimous ruling by the Kentucky Supreme Court, which struck down this year’s public-pension bill. For many of us, it felt like an early Christmas present.
As you may recall, this legislation was introduced and then cleared the General Assembly in less than seven hours back in late March, with no public comment or actuarial analysis, as the law requires of any bill affecting state retirement systems. The bill could not even be read online by citizens until it was already on the governor’s desk for his signature.
Whether you agree with the bill’s substance or not, this is not how legislation, especially one as far-reaching as this, should be passed. If it’s a good idea, it should be able to withstand scrutiny.
Although the ruling focused on how this law was passed, there are serious issues with its content as well, which is something to keep in mind should a similar bill be filed again when the General Assembly kicks off 2019’s legislative session early next month.
Supporters of these changes claim they are necessary to “save” the systems, but nothing could be further from the truth. Far-reaching and bipartisan reforms passed in 2013 – and the increased funding we’ve budgeted since then – are still the right path to reducing the systems’ liabilities over the long term.
What the bill’s supporters don’t mention is that their bill would have re-set the 30-year timeframe to pay down the liabilities, which would cost taxpayers about $5 billion more over the next few decades than if we just maintain the status quo. That’s how much it takes to run our public elementary and secondary schools for a year.
This legislation also would have negatively affected current teachers while significantly changing the retirement plan for those hired in 2019 and beyond. The current plan has served their profession well for nearly 80 years and has seen substantial growth recently in its investments. Teachers also do not receive Social Security, making their state retirement even more important during their golden years.
This is a serious, long-term issue, but serious, long-term solutions are on the books. It is important to note that the public retirement systems have nearly $40 billion on hand while paying out about $4 billion a year to retirees. Those who claim the systems are just a few years away from insolvency are wrong.
It is too soon to say what action, if any, will be taken by the legislature on this issue going forward, but my hope is that we keep heading in the direction we charted nearly six years ago. Whatever we do, though, it is vitally important that we include the public in these discussions. Last week’s Supreme Court ruling will help guarantee that.
If you would like to contact me about this or any other issue, my email is Rick.Rand@lrc.ky.gov, and the toll-free message line for me or any legislator is 800-372-7181. For those with a hearing impairment, the number is 800-896-0305.
For now, I hope you and your family have a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year.