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What's Old Is New Again: Lawmakers Weigh Which Parts Of Pension Reform To Resurrect

Josh James

Kentucky lawmakers are debating what shape new pension reforms should take — with the governor favoring a version that drops provisions that could lead to legal challenges and the House GOP leaning toward reforms that more closely mirror those passed earlier this year before being struck down by the state's highest court.

In a letter to the General Assembly, Bevin administration general counsel Steve Pitt wrote that, while the governor believes the previous pension reforms in Senate Bill 151 pass constitutional muster, he backs a stripped-down version that does away with the more controversial provisions that could attract more lawsuits.

Pitt wrote that the alterations could help "avoid a protracted legal battle that would preclude the Commonwealth from achieveing the certainty needing to avoid an impending downgrade that could cost the taxpayers tends of millions of dollars."

But House Republicans appear more confident in the reforms they okayed during the regular 2018 session, and are currently debating a House substitute that would reinstate some of the elements removed by Bevin's team.

The legislation was the subject of an information-only meeting Tuesday afternoon, one that turned hostile as lawmakers and the crowd began trading accusations about who is at fault for the state’s underfunded retirement system. With one audience member suggesting the General Assembly was out for her money, chairman Rep. Jerry Miller that she "should have asked Gov. Beshear for your money" — a reference to the previous Democratic governor, whom many Republicans blame for chronically lowballing legislative contributions to the systems.

Democratic lawmakers also raised questions about the lack of an actuarial analysis on the new bills and asked for more evidence that a possible credit rating downgrade is imminent. KEA president Stephanie Winkler said lawmakers are again rushing the process.

"We're not allowing time for people to read things and vote on them, and represent both Democrats, Republicans, and Independents in their own districts," she told reporters.

Lawmakers then gaveled in briefly in the House before breaking up for more closed-door Republican and Democratic caucus meetings as negotiations continue.

Both the previous reforms and the current House Bill 1 would shift new teachers hires out of traditional pensions and into less generous plans, in addition to reworking how sick leave can be used toward retirement benefits.

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.
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