Politics & Government

Timetable for pension reform ‘now uncertain’ in Kentucky, says key lawmaker

Senate President Robert Stivers looks on during the Senate session at the Kentucky State Capitol building in Frankfort, Ky., Wednesday, January 10, 2018.
Senate President Robert Stivers looks on during the Senate session at the Kentucky State Capitol building in Frankfort, Ky., Wednesday, January 10, 2018.

With three weeks of this year’s law-making session in the history books, no bill has yet emerged to overhaul Kentucky’s financially ailing public pension systems.

Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, sounded frustrated Friday with the slow start lawmakers have gotten on pension reform, which Gov. Matt Bevin and leading lawmakers had promised would be accomplished last year in a special legislative session.

Stivers said it is “now uncertain” when legislators will tackle pension reform.

“I was hopeful that we would have this done long ago but now I’m uncertain about any time line other than sooner than later,” Stivers said. “It is complex.”

Stivers noted that lawmakers are waiting on an actuarial analysis of a pension bill legislative leaders have been working on in secret.

House Speaker Pro Tempore David Osborne, R-Prospect, was more optimistic, saying he’s hopeful lawmakers will get all the information they need to proceed with a pension overhaul bill “in a couple days.”

House Speaker Pro Tem David Osborne, R-Prospect Photo courtesy of Kentucky Legislative Research Commission

“We met with the Senate, had several conversations about different scenarios, requested some new information from the systems and we’re still waiting for that to be back,” Osborne said.

Stivers said the complexity of the issue, “with circumstances that have come about,” have made it difficult to get a fast start on pension reform in this year’s legislative session.

The “circumstances” Stivers mentioned was an apparent reference to a sexual harassment scandal that rocked the state House and took up much of its time the first two weeks of the session. Friday marked the 12th day of the 60-workday session.

Stivers said the Jan. 30 filing deadline for legislative candidates is not a factor in how pension reform is playing out in this year’s session. Sometimes lawmakers put off controversial issues until they know if they will have an opponent in the next election.

He added that pension reform must come in this session, which is scheduled to end April 13. “I don’t see how we can continue without it,” he said.

Osborne said he does not know when the legislature will pass a pension bill but that he hopes it occurs before the legislature approves a two-year budget.

Jim Carroll, president of the advocacy group Kentucky Government Retirees, said his group is gratified that Bevin’s budget proposal, which the Republican governor presented earlier this week, would provide full funding for the pension programs — about $3.31 billion over the next two years. The programs have more than $40 billion in unfunded liabilities.

“But we continue to be mystified by the secrecy and lack of engagement surrounding pension changes,” Carroll said.

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