Senate leadership say bipartisanship is "what we are trying to do here" on pension reform

01/30/2013 05:31 PM

State Senate Republicans and Democrats met behind closed doors on Wednesday to talk among themselves about recommendations to fix the state’s woefully underfunded state employee pension system.

Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said the meeting was an opportunity to go over recommendations from a legislative task force to make sure both caucuses could ask questions openly. Senate leaders took criticism from the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions as well as retired state workers this week for holding the meeting in private.

But Stivers said the senators decided nothing at Wednesday’s meeting, couldn’t take any action and didn’t plow any new ground. Instead, the closed-door setting was meant for senators to feel comfortable asking questions about a complex subject.

“When you start asking about (actuarially required contribution) payments and assumptions, (rate of return) and (return on investments) it just gets into a little bit of something that may not necessarily be in a person’s realm of experience or knowledge,” Stivers said.

Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, said after the closed door meeting that Senate Bill 2 will contain the recommendations of the public pension task force. And the bill will get a hearing and debate in full view of the public once the legislature resumes its work session on Feb. 5.

The task force’s two most extensive suggestions would be to fully fund the state’s contribution to the system for the first time in more than a decade and to change the calculation of retirement benefits for future state hires. The task force suggested a “hybrid” system in which the worker contributes 5 percent of the paycheck, it’s matched by the state and that money would get a guaranteed return on investment of 4 percent.

“I thought one of the best analogies made was that our pension system is like an oil spill. And what I believe Senate Bill 2 will do is cap the spill and begin cleaning up the mess,” Thayer said.

After the meeting and discussions, the Senate Republican leadership group said the bill has the votes to get out of committee and pass the Senate, even if there are some that believe the recommendations should have gone further.

“I would like to do that but it is not possible. And politics is the art of the possible and I would like to get something done,” Thayer said.

Pew Center on the States’ pension expert David Draine made a presentation in the closed-door meeting about the basics of the Kentucky Retirement System, which is $18 billion dollars short of what it would need to cover all the health care benefits and pension checks of the current and former state, city and county workers and state police who are in the system.

Draine said in the press availability that the recommendations reached by the task force is a “solid way forward” to solving the state’s pension crisis.


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