Politics & Government

Bevin withholds analysis of how much his pension plan would cost taxpayers

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin unveiled his plan to overhaul Kentucky’s public pension systems during a news conference Oct. 18 at the state Capitol.
Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin unveiled his plan to overhaul Kentucky’s public pension systems during a news conference Oct. 18 at the state Capitol.

Already reeling from bad fiscal reviews, Gov. Matt Bevin’s administration refused Monday to release an actuarial analysis showing how much money the Republican’s proposed pension reform plan would cost Kentucky taxpayers who support state and local governments.

The Kentucky Retirement Systems Board of Trustees was scheduled to review the privately conducted analysis of how Bevin’s 505-page draft bill would affect the five pension funds it oversees.

But state budget director John Chilton, a Bevin appointee who sits on the KRS board, told his colleagues that the analysis wouldn’t be made public. Instead, the Bevin administration and roughly a dozen Republican House and Senate members will use the analysis to amend the draft bill in behind-the-scenes negotiations, Chilton said.

“Like most bills, it’s likely there’s going to be some tweaks and changes to them, so the scoring that’s been done will be helpful to them in the legislative process,” Chilton said. “The final bill hasn’t been agreed upon. … Information is preliminary. It’s not a final bill.”

Lawmakers at the Capitol said Monday that they have to assume the worst, because it’s unlikely the governor, a Republican would block a report that made his controversial pension plan look good.

“That’s telling to me and that should be telling to citizens. If we’re going to do this right, which we have to do this right, all information needs to be open so we can have a true dialogue with all stakeholders,” said state Rep. John “Bam” Carney, R-Campbellsville.

The analysis was performed by GRS, an actuarial consulting firm based in Southfield, Mich.

In a prepared statement sent out hours after the KRS board meeting, Bevin spokeswoman Amanda Stamper said the analysis will be released — but only after Chilton and his staff finish reviewing it and making changes to it.

“The state budget director’s office is reviewing the report from GRS, which is clearly marked as a draft,” Stamper wrote. “It is standard practice for there to be discussion around a draft report and changes made in the analysis before anything final is issued. Once the report is finalized, it will be released.”

Chilton said he didn’t know when, or whether, a new pension bill would be made public, or when or whether a special legislative session on pensions would be called by the governor. The 2018 General Assembly begins Jan. 2.

The Teachers’ Retirement System of Kentucky released its actuarial analysis last week, showing that Bevin’s draft bill would cost $4.4 billion more over 20 years when compared with maintaining the current pension system with full funding. TRS provides pensions for educators; KRS covers state and local government employees.

Unlike the teachers’ system, the KRS board is dominated by gubernatorial appointees, including Chilton.

“In my opinion, it (the TRS analysis) was released prematurely,” Chilton said.

KRS board chairman John Farris, also a Bevin appointee, deferred to Chilton on the analysis.

“Mr. Chilton has some questions while our actuaries are in town,” Farris told reporters after the meeting. “Mr. Chilton is going to work with the actuaries to make sure the numbers are correct before we display them to the public.”

Bevin will only make people assume the worst by withholding the fiscal markup of his pension bill, said Larry Totten, president of Kentucky Public Retirees.

“You do have to wonder what the point is of sitting on it,” Totten said. “It’s a shame, because this affects way too many people to keep it under wraps. Either you’re a public employee in Kentucky or you’re a public retiree or you’re a member of the public who pays to support these systems. Everyone has a stake in this discussion, and everyone should be allowed to have the facts.”

Several members of the General Assembly said Monday that there should be plenty of sunlight in the governor’s pension talks.

“It’s important to be transparent,” said state Rep. Steve Riley, R-Glasgow. “All of this needs to be as transparent as possible. That’s what the people expect us to be. (The Teachers’ Retirement System) analysis was concerning because I think we need to make sure that whatever we do is in the best interest of people who receive pensions and also in the best interest of the state.”

Democratic representatives Attica Scott and Reginald Meeks, both of Louisville, said neither of them were invited to participate in Bevin’s first draft pension bill or whatever replacement his office is now crafting with GOP lawmakers. They laughed when asked whether they expected a seat at the table anytime soon.

“It seems like we’re all at the mercy of the governor on this,” said Scott, a House freshman. “Unfortunately, in my first year in the legislature, I’ve learned that this is not the most collaborative body.”

John Cheves: 859-231-3266, @BGPolitics

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