According to the Congressional Budget Office, the Social Security Trust Fund runs out of reserves in 2030. In 2031, unless the law changes, the government can only pay out the Social Security tax collected during that budget year.
Unfunded state pensions for public employees are a problem nationwide, totaling 1.28 trillion dollars. The three states in the worst position? Illinois, New Jersey, and Kentucky, all of which have less than 40% of their future pension liabilities funded. Kansas ranks 29th, at 67% funded.
Who knows what the deferred maintenance totals in our nation’s roads, bridges, sewers, water lines, storm sewers, airports, parks, etc.? We know that in Bourbon County and our incorporated towns alone, the number is well over $100 million.
About 25 years ago, I served on the Johnson County Infrastructure Advisory Committee. We heard testimony after testimony from public works directors from around the region as to the necessity of maintaining systems. It costs five times as much to repair as to maintain, was the common theme. After much analysis, we recommended to the commission a fully-funded maintenance plan with the allocated tax revenue, which was promptly ignored. The county commission voted to spend 100% of the prescribed tax receipts on a new pet project that was important to the public. Budgeted for maintenance? Zero.
Why is this happening? Why did we not have the foresight to set up a self-funded system for Social Security and state pensions that would need no future contributions at some point in time? Why have we not budgeted for infrastructure maintenance, preferring to pay five times more for repairs?
My view? These investments are invisible. There is no political capital in having reserves in the bank, or underground improvements maintained. It is easier to get elected when politicians “rob Peter, to pay Paul.” There is no political penalty for ignoring the problem, especially at the national level.
Do I blame the politicians? No. They are acting at the impulse of the voters. We want free things. We want beautiful amenities. We want it all now! After all, this is how many of us run our home finances.
The economic development of an area is significantly impacted by these invisible factors. Site selectors and outsiders examine these factors when determining where to locate. Residents get tired of paying higher taxes and receiving less in services, and they move away.
We have to start playing the long game in our Bourbon County communities by repairing, then maintaining, all that is broken with our streets, sewers, etc. I am too old to sell my truck and buy a horse in order to get around.
Let’s work together to formulate a plan to make these invisible investments at home, and in our local governments. As voters, let’s quit rewarding politicians whose focus is instant gratification at all levels of government. Our future economic viability depends on it.