Mum's the word from top lawmakers as pension reform talks near resolution

10/04/2017 04:36 PM

FRANKFORT — House Speaker Jeff Hoover said many Kentuckians will breathe “a big sigh of relief” when lawmakers unveil their pension reform proposal, but details were scarce after top lawmakers met Wednesday in Frankfort.

Hoover said those working on the proposal agreed not to disclose specifics before it’s unveiled, and he declined to elaborate on comments by Governor Matt Bevin in a radio interview Tuesday, during which the governor said new public workers and those who aren’t promised defined-benefit pensions would receive 401(k)-style defined-contribution plans.

“In our meetings we had an agreement not to discuss anything publicly with regard to the plan, and so I’m going to stick to that,” Hoover, R-Jamestown, said following Wednesday’s Legislative Research Commission meeting. “I’m not going to say anything publicly until we are in agreement that we can do that from the legislative side, and we’re not there yet.”

But a proposal to grapple with unfunded pension liabilities ranging from $37 billion to $64 billion, depending on which estimates are used, could be coming soon.

Hoover said details could be released sometime next week.

“We are much closer than we were three weeks ago,” he said. “I would hope that over the next several days, week to 10 days that we could move closer to where we would be in a position to make some public announcement. We’re not there yet.”

Hoover and other Republican leaders in the House met with their Democratic counterparts earlier Wednesday to update them on pension reform efforts, but House Minority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins was equally evasive with specifics, saying they agreed not to disclose details of the meeting.

Adkins, who said he hasn’t been involved in crafting the proposal, did share some of his general concerns with the effort as a whole, particularly in maintaining the inviolable contract that governs retirement benefits for most state workers.

As part of pension reform efforts in 2013, lawmakers gave themselves leeway to amend future retirement benefits for those hired after Jan. 1, 2014, excluding teachers.

“For new employees you may have some flexibility, but again, when you go to a 401(k) how does that impact the existing pension plans that you have in effect now for those current employees and especially those retirees that those pension plans don’t end up in trouble?” said Adkins, D-Sandy Hook.

It’s still unclear exactly when a special session for pension reform will be called.

Hoover said they would need about three weeks to draft a bill and that he would like to give his members time to digest the proposal.

Both he and Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said the timing depends entirely on Bevin’s call.

“We have plenty of time between now and January of 2018 to do this, but we want to make sure that this is morally right, legally defensible, philosophically it does what we think it should do and fiscally is responsible to all people involved, both the recipients and the taxpayers of Kentucky,” Stivers said.

Stivers also said revenue measures have not been discussed during pension reform talks, saying lawmakers will decide how to finance the state’s underfunded public retirement plans during budget negotiations in next year’s legislative session.


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