Gov. Matt Bevin said Thursday it’s regrettable that public pension reform was not accomplished this year, but he expects it will be addressed early in the legislative session that begins Jan. 2.
The Republican governor, who held a news conference in the Capitol to discuss his administration’s key initiatives and accomplishments of the year like a record year for capital investment, also left the door open for a re-election campaign in 2019.
“We’ll see,” said the governor halfway through his first four-year term when asked if he plans to seek a second term.
He had strong words for a possible opponent in the next race for governor, Democrat Attorney General Andy Beshear, saying he does not take him seriously. The two have had major legal skirmishes in their first two years in office.
Beshear responded: “All I have ever asked is that the governor follow the law. Given we are four days from Christmas, I had hoped the governor could rise above name calling and personal attacks.”
Bevin had hoped to call a special legislative session this calendar year to address the state’s financially strapped public pension systems that he said could be as much as $50 billion to $80 billion in debt.
He said Thursday that it is logistically impossible now to have a special session on pension reform this year.
It was possible to have one this week, he said, but he noted the disruption in the House in recent weeks, apparently referring to sexual misconduct scandals.
Bevin said he believes House Speaker Pro Tem David Osborne, R-Prospect, and Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, want to deal with pension reform as quickly as possible.
He did not mention Rep. Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, who said in early November that he was going to step down as House speaker in the wake of a secret sexual harassment settlement with a staffer.
Bevin has called for Hoover’s resignation from the legislature. Hoover has maintained he never sexually harassed anyone and has not yet officially resigned as speaker. Some House members are trying to keep him on as the chamber’s top leader.
Bevin said he expects lawmakers will deal with pension reform before they craft a two-year state budget that he predicted will be “a doozy” because of insufficient funds. A minimum of an extra $2 billion is needed to address the state’s needs, he said.
The governor warned that areas that traditionally have been spared from cuts may get cut in the next budget. He did not elaborate.
A reduction plan to deal with an expected shortfall of about $156 million this current fiscal year will be announced soon, Bevin said.
Bevin spent much of his news conference touting his initiatives.
He reported that Kentucky has had a record-breaking year for economic development, reaching $8.9 billion in new investments with 16,472 new jobs. That eclipses, he said, the previous record of $5.1 billion.
In his two years in office, said Bevin, his administration has brought to Kentucky $12.4 billion in new investments with 34,000 new jobs.
Bevin attributed the investment growth to the legislative passage of right-to-work legislation, repeal of the prevailing wage law and reducing excessive regulations. He pointed to a red button on his lapel that urges the cutting of red tape.
The governor also praised charter school legislation, anti-abortion laws, performance-based funding in higher education, a program to allow high school students to receive both high school and postsecondary credit at the same time for a course that is approved, improvements in workforce training and a three-day prescription limit for certain narcotics.
The state plans to go even harder after doctors who over-prescribe, he said.
Bevin defended his call this summer for prayer patrols in Louisville to curb gun violence.
He said the initiative has made differences in people’s lives even though Louisville is recording its second straight year of more than 100 homicides.
Louisville has a police problem, Bevin said, questioning the spending in six weeks of an extra $1.5 million earmarked to fight crime but used for overtime pay. Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said it is “sad and surprising” that Bevin would criticize Louisville police and said crime is down in nearly every category in the state’s largest city.
Bevin also said Lexington has a police problem but did not elaborate.
Bevin devoted a bulk of his news conference criticizing Attorney General Beshear, saying he does “not take anything he does seriously.”
Bevin criticized the media for not focusing more attention on Beshear and the state’s 2015 $24 million settlement with OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma under then-Attorney General Jack Conway.
Bevin, who regularly takes shots at the media, said a newspaper could win a Pulitzer Prize by investigating that settlement.
Beshear has said he had nothing to do with that settlement. At the time, he worked for the Louisville law firm of Stites and Harbison, which represented Purdue Pharma in the lawsuit, but he repeatedly has said he had no involvement in the case.