Politics & Government

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas and there’s still no revised pension bill

'A pension is a promise.' Public employees rally against GOP pension plan at Capitol

Calling for the legislature to find new sources of revenue rather than make changes to the pension system, public employees rallied against the Republican proposal to reform the state's pension system.
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Calling for the legislature to find new sources of revenue rather than make changes to the pension system, public employees rallied against the Republican proposal to reform the state's pension system.

Christmas decorations have started going up in the Kentucky Capitol but House Republicans still haven’t settled on a bill to overhaul the state’s ailing public pension systems.

“We have a plan that we were able to talk about in here today that literally I think everybody wants to try and and get their arms around,” House Speaker Pro Tempore David Osborne said Tuesday after emerging from a nearly two and a half hour meeting of House Republicans. “Certainly building consensus is difficult, as we’ve seen in this process, it’s a very difficult issue for everybody. And so to get a consensus that everybody’s gonna just love, I think we’re awfully close to having something that people feel good about.”

Close might not be enough. Gov. Matt Bevin, a Republican, remains insistent that he will call a special legislative session before the end of the year to deal with one of the worst-funded pension systems in the country.

Despite a legislative body that doesn’t support his original pension reform bill and a sexual harassment scandal that derailed discussions in early November, Bevin said in an interview with Terry Meiners on WHAS radio last week that he has full confidence the legislature will be ready for a special session in December.

“I’ve said I’m going to call a special session; I am going to call a special session,” Bevin said. “I said I would do it this year; It will happen this year.”

House Republicans are making no such promises.

“That’s the call the governor has to make on a special session,” said House Majority Floor Leader Jonathan Shell, R-Lancaster. “What we’re gonna do is get ready with a bill proposal that we can put out to the public in the near future so we can get input back on that and hopefully ... have something to pass whenever we either go into a special session or a regular session. And that’s what we’re continuing to work on.”

The 2018 session of the General Assembly begins January 2 and is scheduled to last through April 13.

House leaders have met frequently with their counterparts in the Republican-led Senate to make changes to the proposed legislation, but no new draft bill has been presented to lawmakers. It would take an additional week to 10 days to generate an actuarial analysis of the bill, something House leaders have said they want to see before the bill gets a vote.

“I think it’s important to have all the information that we can possibly have available and that would include an actuarial analysis,” said Osborne, R-Prospect.

House Republicans still have not seen an actuarial analysis of how Bevin’s original pension proposal would impact the Kentucky Retirement Systems. That analysis was supposed to be released earlier this month, but state Budget Director John Chilton withheld the document, calling it a draft.

The Teachers’ Retirement System of Kentucky released an analysis that predicted Bevin’s plan would cost an extra $4.4 billion over 20 years, a figure the Bevin administration challenged.

Osborne said he’s not concerned that lawmakers haven’t seen the total cost of Bevin’s original proposal.

“It might be useful for comparison purposes, but we’ll still have to do another one regardless,” Osborne said.

Setting questions of timing aside, Republican leaders said they remain firm in their commitment to changing the state’s pension systems.

“Regardless of whether we go into a special session or we deal with this in a regular session, we’ve got to address this problem and that’s what we’re continuing to work on with our House majority, with the Senate majority and the governor’s office,” Shell said. “That’s not changed.”

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