Politics & Government

GOP lawmakers spend hours debating pension reform. Public workers still in the dark.

New issues popping up as lawmakers craft pension plan, Hoover says

House Speaker Jeff Hoover says new issues keep arising as Republicans meet to discuss pension reform on Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2017.
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House Speaker Jeff Hoover says new issues keep arising as Republicans meet to discuss pension reform on Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2017.

Republican lawmakers are inching closer to releasing key details of proposed legislation to overhaul the state’s ailing pension systems.

Senate Republicans met for four hours Monday, discussing the pension system until 8 p.m. House Republicans sat through three hours of discussion and a power outage as they debated the bill Tuesday.

Both meetings were closed to the public.

“We have a long way to go,” said Rep. James Tipton, R-Taylorsville, “It’s a work in progress, but a good discussion.”

That discussion will continue Wednesday when Republican leaders in the House and Senate are scheduled to meet with Gov. Matt Bevin to discuss issues raised this week by rank-and-file lawmakers.

House Speaker Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, said he had heard rumors that key details of the bill would be released to the public this week, but said he isn’t sure that will happen.

“I would have hoped that we could have released something three weeks ago, but we’re not there yet,” Hoover said. “Can we be there by the end of the week? Maybe. I’m just not sure. We’re continuing to have a discussion. Seems like every time we have a meeting, other issues get raised, or questions get raised on particular issues that we have to get more information and have more discussion.”

So far, Hoover and his Senate counterpart, Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, have said little about what will and won’t be included in the legislature’s pension reform. Hoover has said he expects people will breathe a “sigh of relief” when they see the legislature’s proposal.

Hoover said there has been a lot of misinformation about what changes the legislature plans to make. When asked to provide details that would clear up the confusion, though, Hoover said “good try.”

“I made a commitment within that group that I would say nothing publicly and I intend to honor the commitment I made and I will do that until we get to the point that we have something we can share publicly,” he said.

That hasn’t stopped some details from leaking out.

Bevin, a fellow Republican, has indicated the proposal will put state workers into a 401(k)-style investment plan, though it’s unclear if that will affect current employees or will be restricted to new hires.

Sen. Tom Buford, R-Nicholasville, said it appears that the County Employees Retirement System, which provides pensions for county and city employees as well as non-teaching school district employees, will not be removed from the Kentucky Retirement Systems.

The Kentucky League of Cities and Kentucky Association of Counties want to pull CERS from the KRS umbrella, which includes other pension plans that aren’t as well-funded.

Buford also said there is discussion about capping retirement benefits at $127,000 a year, but stressed that “all this is subject to change.”

Buford predicted the plan will pass easily in the Senate and will face more difficulty in the House. Republicans control both chambers but the GOP has only been the majority party in the House since 2016 after nearly 100 years of Democratic control. All 100 House seats are up for election next year.

Daniel Desrochers: 502-875-3793, @drdesrochers, @BGPolitics