When asked recently, Gov. Sam Brownback wouldn’t say whether he would push for privatization of the state’s pension program.
Of course he would.
Brownback has bought into the American Legislative Exchange Council’s “model” legislation on privatization and other fronts, with the Koch-supported Kansas Chamber and Kansas Policy Institute aggressively pushing numerous ALEC “free market” initiatives.
Out to privatize many functions of government, ALEC — a bill mill for major corporate interests — no doubt has guided its legislative followers in Kansas and beyond on ways to turn state pension and retirement fund systems over to private firms. The goal is to reduce the cost of state retiree benefits to cover corporate subsidies and tax cuts.
Underfunded for many years, the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System (KPERS) is a significant challenge. But radical change won’t ensure the pension system’s long-term solvency.
Besides, an ultraconservative, Brownback-led faction has no business dramatically altering the state’s pension fund — especially with more Baby Boomers closing in on retirement, and current Statehouse leadership’s abysmal financial record.
Consider that in the last legislative session, Brownback and his legislative supporters thought it wise to pay down the KPERS debt by selling $1 billion in bonds at an interest rate of 4.69 percent, in spite of serious concern in the invested funds not generating the projected return.
Financial experts likened the move to borrowing from the bank to pay off credit cards. Sadly, many Kansas lawmakers — including so-called fiscal conservatives — endorsed the gamble.
As for KPERS, all possible options — privatization included — warrant careful study and discussion. The problem, however, is in a Legislature stacked with far-right, blind ALEC followers embracing privatization without due deliberation and input from constituents. That’s been their modus operandi, after all.
We already know privatization isn’t a cure-all. Brownback’s ALEC-promoted privatization of Medicaid — now known as KanCare — only created new and consistent problems for providers and recipients.
A better way to responsibly fix KPERS and other significant budgetary woes would be restoring state income-tax revenue Brownback slashed.
Without his reckless tax policy (also drawn from ALEC’s playbook), Kansas would have surplus funds to bolster KPERS.
Unfortunately, Brownback still would rather enrich his wealthy supporters at the expense of many others.