Even though many House leaders say more work is needed on pension bill, Gov. Bevin insists the bill has votes it needs to pass; he still says 3 percent pay cut for state workers is to ensure health insurance in retirement

The Herald-Leader, Lexington, Nov. 13, 2017

Bevin insists ‘the votes are still there’ for his pension reform plan

Gov. Matt Bevin said Monday he is convinced there are enough votes in the Kentucky legislature to approve his proposed changes to the state’s financially-strapped public pension systems.

Bevin said Senate President Robert Stivers and then-House Speaker Jeff Hoover told him last month when the three unveiled a pension reform plan that they had the votes to pass the bill, and he believes that remains true today.

“When this pension bill was brought forward, it was announced with me standing there between the Senate president and the speaker of the House at that time, with the two of them doing most of the talking, because the two of them had said straight up that they had the votes to pass that bill,” Bevin said during an interview Monday morning on the Leland Conway Show on WHAS-AM in Louisville. “They can deny that now but why would they come out and publicly call for this bill after working for months and months on that bill — both of them and their colleagues — if they did not have the votes for it?

“They did have the votes. I’m convinced the votes are still there.”

That opinion runs counter to House leaders, who have said more work remains to be done on the bill.

Louisville Republican Jerry Miller, who is co-chairman of the legislature’s Public Pension Oversight Board, said Friday in his newsletter to constituents that “after House members listened to the feedback of hundreds of constituents, it was acknowledged by our leadership that we didn’t have the votes to pass the bill as written.”

Bevin acknowledged during the radio interview that a sexual harassment scandal in the House Republican Caucus has slowed down the pension reform process.

“People’s shenanigans and misbehaviors are much more titillating” to the media, he said.

Hoover resigned as leader of the House earlier this month, just days after the revelation that he and three other GOP lawmakers had signed a confidential agreement to settle a legislative employee’s claims of sexual harassment.

Bevin said nothing about whether he still plans to call a special legislative session this year to address public pensions.

The governor also was asked about a controversial portion of his pension plan that would require public workers to contribute an extra 3 percent of their pay into their retiree health insurance funds.

Conway asked Bevin if that money would be used for health insurance or if it would be used to make up shortfalls in other areas, as he had heard.

“That supposition that you just put out there is 100 percent false. I don’t know who started that. I could guess,” said Bevin.

“Those that are working right now in state government would contribute 3 percent to ensuring their health benefits will be there for them when they retire,” Bevin said. “One hundred percent of that 3 percent by law will go to exactly that purpose and to no other purpose. It can’t be used for other purposes. So anyone saying otherwise is misleading people or misinformed.”

What Bevin didn’t explain is that the 3 percent salary cut would not create additional money for those funds, which the Herald-Leader reported last month.

The additional money to be taken from teachers’ and public employees’ salaries and deposited into the retiree health insurance funds — about $243 million a year — would be offset by the equivalent loss of current contributions from their employers, which would be diverted to the separately managed pension funds.

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