Kentucky's public employee pension plan is one of the nation's most underfunded because the legislature underfunded it.
No one should lose sight of that — least of all, lawmakers.
The fund's management also merits scrutiny. Especially concerning are the high costs and recent low returns in the Kentucky Retirement Systems that cover nearly 350,000 state and local government employees and retirees.
That fund posted just a 2-percent return on its investments in the fiscal year that ended June 30. In fairness, this could be an anomaly; the fund has achieved a respectable 7.9 percent return over 20 years.
But in the last fiscal year, other state retirement funds performed better while paying less for investment advice. The larger Kentucky Teachers' Retirement System posted a 5.1 percent return while the smaller pension plans for lawmakers and judges returned almost 11 percent.
The Standard & Poor's 500 index of large U.S. stocks yielded 7.4 percent at the same time the KRS returned 2 percent.
Of the state funds, KRS is the most precarious, by far. One of its funds, covering about 120,000 state workers, is soon expected to have less than 20 percent of what it needs to meet future obligations and is cashing out investments to pay its pensioners, reports the Herald-Leader's John Cheves.
The crisis is most concerning to the public employees who paid in all those years, trusting their pensions would be there when they needed them.
But Kentucky's $30 billion in public pension debt has wider repercussions. It's dragging down the state's credit rating, making it more expensive for the state to issue bonds to build needed infrastructure. It also could discourage investment in the state by those who fear an expensive crisis in Kentucky's future.
Given how much is at stake, the public and the public pensioners deserve to be reassured about how well the retirement fund is being managed.