Defense wins championships, not jobs

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By Jim Waters

SOMEWHERE IN THE BACKFIELD, Ky. – The day Gov. Steve Beshear took office, Kentucky’s unemployment rate was 5.6 percent. In September it was 9.7 percent, higher than the August rate and way higher than the 9.1 percent of all Americans reportedly out of work but still looking.

Of course, when these numbers are discussed, Democratic partisans play defense, throwing up their hands and blaming “the recession” that has swept the country.

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In one of a pitifully few gubernatorial campaign debates he bothered to show up for – a debate on Kentucky Educational Television’s “Kentucky Tonight” heading into the election’s final week – Beshear spent more time blaming Washington and its “dysfunctional politics” than he did offering the kind of leadership needed to bring the commonwealth through its current funk.

Whether he’s campaigning or governing, Beshear prides himself on playing defense.

Yet while he – in Obama-like fashion – claimed to have made great “stops” in the form of “saving” 19,500 jobs, Omnicare, a Fortune 400 company in Covington, left Kentucky’s oppressive business tax rates behind and took 500 jobs to Cincinnati.

Where was Beshear? Way back up the field somewhere – yelling hysterically: “It’s Washington’s fault. It’s Washington’s fault. It’s Washington’s fault.”

Meanwhile, AC Nielsen, another large employer in Covington, has indicated it’s also considering crossing the Ohio.

Neither could the governor hold on to Kentucky’s credit rating. As the debt piled up, ratings agencies downgraded the commonwealth’s bonds this year because of the commonwealth’s unfunded public-pension liability – one of the nation’s worst.

Beshear’s defense doesn’t appear any better than much of the defensive play offered by Kentucky’s college football teams this fall.

We might be able to forgive the poor defense if the governor was offering some kind of offensive game plan when he “gets the ball back” that would, say, offer a fiscally sound budget that doesn’t rely on billions of stimulus funding from the same Washington he tries to tackle.

But I’m not sure he even wants the ball back.

Despite the fact that the commonwealth’s unfunded pension liability has grown from $1 billion in 2000 to $31 billion today, Pure Politics recently reported Beshear “wouldn’t commit to revamping the system and remains opposed to adopting a 401(k)-style retirement approach for future retirees.”

The governor has fumbled time and again on the pension issue, saying he thinks no further reforms are necessary right now. He thinks we’ll be okay in 25 years or so.

Maybe Beshear has happened upon some economic voodoo that magically solves our pension problems without having to make tough decisions, such as requiring state workers to – like those in the private sector – contribute more toward their own benefit plans.

One part of the football voodoo the governor has down-pat is scrambling in the pocket. But if you never step up and make the big pass, of what benefit is that (what we’ll generously call) “talent?”

Perhaps nothing displays this administration’s inept handling of the economy – or its reliance on economic voodoo – more than the recent announcement that an electric-car factory in Shepherdsville won’t be hiring 4,000 people after all.

The Lexington Herald-Leader reports that after the project won approval from the voodoo kings at the state’s economic development cabinet, “Beshear famously drove a victory lap around the state Capitol in a prototype car. But the deal later evaporated, and nothing was built.”

But hey, just wait 25 more years and we’ll get some things done. You’ll see.

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