A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Amid Kentucky’s heated pension debate, nearly $580 million in corporate tax subsidies remain untouched

By Nadia Ramlagan
Public News Service

Funding for Kentucky’s pension system continues to be a fiercely debated topic, and some experts say putting an end to corporate tax breaks could help boost the revenue stream for public-employee retirement plans.

Captain Brian O’Neill is a firefighter and president of the Louisville Professional Firefighters Union. He said he’s troubled by the ongoing push to chip away at pension benefits and health insurance options for his colleagues.

Prior to 2008, Kentucky’s pension system was well funded. But the Great Recession, coupled with risky investments, left the state’s pension plans massively underfunded, according to an analysis by the National Public Pension Coalition. (Photo from Adobe Stock, via PNS)

“I’m working alongside of other firefighters that are doing the same job that I am, that are taking the same risks that I am, but based not on anything that any one of us did but just based on when you were hired, you have a different benefits structure,” O’Neill said. “There’s a lot of concerns about how these certain people will be able to take care of themselves in retirement.”

According to a study by the policy center Good Jobs First, in Kentucky, about $580 million per year is lost to corporate subsidies, tax breaks and the use of offshore tax havens.

Ellen Yonts Suetholz, coordinator of the Kentucky Public Pension Coalition, said the math is simple.

“We take in less in revenue every year than we give out in tax breaks. That issue has not been addressed,” Suetholz said. “No one wants to be the one that’s raising taxes or taking away some of these benefits that some of the corporations in our state enjoy.”

Lawmakers and Gov. Matt Bevin remain at an impasse on the pension funding issue, and Suetholz said it’s unclear what will happen next. She said Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andy Beshear has suggested expanding casinos and medical marijuana as potential moneymakers to fund the pension system.

“I think Bevin has shown us his priorities, in that he hasn’t addressed it in four years,” she said. “And then, you know, Beshear may have good intentions, but does he have a legislature that will work with him on that?”

The Kentucky Supreme Court recently heard oral arguments in a lawsuit against hedge fund managers responsible for the state retirement system’s investments. A group of public employees initially filed the lawsuit in 2017.

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