Let’s assume that Gov. Matt Bevin’s hastily called and doomed special session wasn’t about pique over the Supreme Court rejection over how a pension law was passed. Let’s ignore any motivation to boost his reelection chances.
We can give the former hedge-fund manager credit for being committed to solving the longstanding pension underfunding problem that has helped tank the state’s credit rating.
Yet, Bevin’s handling of this situation reinforces just how little he has mastered the soft skills of governing during his three years in office.
It’s time for voters to demand that he do his job better. And when the legislative session opens next month, he needs to show it. He is no longer a political newcomer or outsider; he is the chief executive of Kentucky.
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Bevin still acts as if he thinks a governor can just announce something and everyone falls in line. He does not effectively communicate or negotiate with lawmakers and interest groups to carry out an agenda.
Worse, he is disrespectful, as was evident by all his broadsides against teachers over the past year. Calling a special session with little notice, just days before Christmas and just weeks before the legislature starts was not going to win friends, even among Republican lawmakers.
The session itself was a disorganized mess. Bevin presented two different bills with changes from the pension reform bill that was passed earlier this year. That opened the door to other legislation, which meant lawmakers didn’t know what they were supposed to be considering. Although the Supreme Court did not rule on the specifics of the contentious pension reform, it’s understandable that lawmakers would want to take some time to reassess. And they did not want another court challenge over lack of transparency.
But the most disappointing thing about Bevin’s tenure has been that he has not come up with ways to raise money, beyond embracing conservative orthodoxy to pass laws favorable to businesses.
Despite his vow to get rid of budgetary sacred cows, his budgets have not addressed the myriad of tax exemptions that have grown to exceed state revenue by $2 billion a year.
Instead, his proposals are often punitive: taking away benefits from pensioners, putting up obstacles for poor people needing health care. There could be a case to make for such actions, but not when he refuses to expand the sales tax to the fast-growing service sector.
Bevin often calls on Kentuckians and lawmakers to “chart a bold course of action” to solve state problems.
He should do the same by learning constructive ways to use his office to get things done.