Politics & Government

Depleted state pension system will get lawmakers’ attention in October, speaker says

Kentucky House Speaker Jeff Hoover waved to the crowd during the political speeches at the Fancy Farm picnic on Aug. 5, 2017.
Kentucky House Speaker Jeff Hoover waved to the crowd during the political speeches at the Fancy Farm picnic on Aug. 5, 2017.

A special law-making session to tackle Kentucky’s financially strapped public pension systems will likely be held in October and tax reform possibly will be addressed later, House Speaker Jeff Hoover said Thursday.

Hoover, speaking to reporters before the 54th annual Kentucky Farm Bureau Country Ham Breakfast at the Kentucky State Fair that attracted about 1,500 people, also said all House members will meet at 11 a.m. Tuesday in closed session at the Capitol to discuss pension reform.

He noted that the Public Pension Oversight Board will receive recommendations on pension reform before the Tuesday meeting.

Hoover, R-Jamestown, said he wanted the meeting to be closed so members could express themselves freely. No straw vote will be taken to determine how members feel on the issue, he said.

Only the governor can call a special session and set its agenda. Republican Gov. Matt Bevin said during his speech at the breakfast that Kentucky is in “dire straits” with its public pension systems and that “we are determined to save the system. We have a moral and legal obligation to do so.”

The governor declined to take questions from reporters after his speech. He was expected to say more about pensions later Thursday in an address at the Governor’s Local Issues Conference in Louisville. He was to meet with Hoover and Senate President Robert Stivers after the fair breakfast.

Earlier this year, the governor promised a special legislative session sometime this year to deal with tax and pension reforms.

But several House Republicans have been reluctant to commit to changing taxes since this marks the first year since 1921 that the GOP has controlled the House. Many lawmakers would like to see if they draw opposition in next January’s filing deadline before committing to making changes that raise additional revenue for the state.

Hoover said taxes could be addressed in the 2018 General Assembly that begins in January or in a special session next year.

He said it was “very, very unlikely” that a special session would be held this year on tax reform.

Stivers, R-Manchester, said the Senate will not meet as a whole but both Senate Republicans and Senate Democrats will meet in separate caucuses next week to discuss pension reform.

He also said tax and pension reforms should not be addressed in the same session.

House Minority Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Morehead, said it’s important that legislators reach a consensus before a special session is called, noting that one costs more than $60,000 a day. It takes at least five days to make a bill law in the legislature.

Adkins said he has not been briefed on any pension bill and that it will be left up to the governor to sell the proposal to lawmakers and the public.

He said it will be interesting to see how Republican leadership deals with the financially ailing pension system without raising more money through tax reform.

The state’s public pension systems have a combined shortfall of at least $37 billion. The primary state pension fund, known as the Kentucky Employees Retirement System (Non-Hazardous), has only 13.81 percent of the money it is expected to need in coming years. It covers 122,145 active state workers and retirees.

McConnell mum on Trump

During his speech at the breakfast, U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell did not comment on his up-and-down working relationship with President Trump.

He said the Trump administration is focusing on rural and small-town America and is reducing regulations that strangled farmers and businesses.

McConnell exited without taking questions from reporters.

Governor Matt Bevin gave a couple minutes to press, answering questions about his thoughts on the relationship between U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and President Donald Trump before entering the Kentucky Exposition Center for the 54

Protest of Farm Bureau

A dozen or so protesters showed up outside the breakfast to voice displeasure with Farm Bureau’s policies that they said are detrimental to homosexuals, teachers, unions and women.

Those policies include opposition to state benefits for domestic partners, support for defining marriage as only between a man and woman and opposition to abortion.

Farm Bureau has said its policies reflect the values of its members.

Chris Hartman, director of the Fairness Campaign, said he does not believe that the majority of Farm Bureau members agree with its policy stances.

The protesters had with them this year a tall “guest” nicknamed Freda Fairness to draw attention to their concerns and to satirize the Farm Bureau’s longtime 18-foot Freddy Farm Bureau doll that welcomes visitors to the fair.

Fairness Campaign director Chris Hartman was part of a group of people protesting outside of the Kentucky Farm Bureau Country Ham Breakfast against the Farm Bureau's policies regarding same-sex marriage and other social issues. With them is Freda

Jack Brammer: (502) 227-1198, @BGPolitics