House, Senate GOP leaders huddle in two-hour meeting on pension reform; Senate president says scoring analysis of TRS will not hamper their work, says special session still on the table

Kentucky Today, Louisville, Nov. 14, 2017
Republican leadership keeping attention on pension
By Tom Latek

Members of Kentucky Senate and House Republican leadership are still trying to come up with legislation to address problems with the state’s public pension plan.

Members met behind closed doors for about two hours on Monday and Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said, “We are trying to do all we can do to resolve this issue as quickly as possible and potentially have a special session before we go into regular session.”

Stivers said their work is not hampered due to a scoring analysis released last week by Cavanaugh McDonald Consulting last week that said Gov. Matt Bevin’s plan to overhaul the Kentucky Teachers Retirement System would cost taxpayers an additional $4.4 billion over the next 20 years.

“Anytime you’re going to resolve an unfunded liability problem, you’re going to have to spend more dollars,” Stivers said during an interview on Monday.  “So, it didn’t really shock me to see that we’re going to have to spend more dollars over the period of time.  If we don’t do anything, the dollars would even be greater that we’d have to spend to bring them into a good funded status.”

When asked if he thought it was realistic to come up with a pension bill in five legislative days between now and the end of the year, Stivers said, “I think we could get close, if we can get a consensus on what the bill should be.

“There’s time,” he said.  “But, let’s don’t dance around and say, ‘It can be done.’  Will it be difficult? Without a doubt.  But it can be done.”

Stivers said there are daily communications between the Senate and House, even though not all of them are face-to-face.  “Emails, text messages, suggestions, things of that nature, are virtually 15-20 hours a day going back and forth between people.”

As for input from minority Democrats, Stivers said, “I’ve invited them to make suggestions, as we’ve invited a lot of groups to make suggestions.  They’re just not.  Everything’s out there, a bill’s out there.  I have yet to see the first proposal from any member of the Minority Caucus, to date.”

Meanwhile, the Bevin Administration did not release an analysis Monday of how much money the pension bill would cost taxpayers during a board of trustees meeting of the Kentucky Employee Retirement System because the proposal is not yet finished.

State Budget Director John Chilton said last week’s release of the Teachers Retirement System analysis was premature.

The KERS Board also heard Monday that the public pension debt jumped by over $5 billion for the fiscal year that ended June 30.  Nearly all of that is because the trustees predict less return on investments than previously thought.

Last year, the debt in the Kentucky Employee Retirement System, which oversees five of the eight public pension systems was #21.6 billion.  But consultants now pegged at $26.7 billion.  The debt is the amount the state doesn’t have to pay promised retirement and health insurance benefits over the next 30 years.  

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