'Landmark Win' Or A 'Sad Day': Kentucky Leaders React To Pension Ruling

Dec 13, 2018

Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear is hailing Thursday’s Supreme Court decision overturning GOP-backed pension reforms as a win for state workers. But the governor contends those applauding today’s ruling are cheering the demise of the very system they want to protect.

FILE - In this April 13, 2018, file photo, teachers from across Kentucky gather inside the state Capitol to rally for increased funding for education in Frankfort, Ky.
Credit AP Photo/Bryan Woolston, File

Flanked by education and law enforcement representatives, Beshear – a Democrat and candidate for governor in 2019 – said the unanimous 7-0 opinion blocking this year’s much-debated pension reforms was a landmark win.

"This case wasn't close," he told reporters. "This legislature and this governor violated their oath to uphold the Constitution and that's a very serious thing." 

The state’s highest court struck down the changes citing procedure, one Republicans argue has been used to pass many bills over the years. 

Calling it a "sad day," Gov. Matt Bevin acknowledged the Senate Bill 151 would not – on its own – have turned the pension system around. But, he said, it would have stopped the bleeding.

"This problem still exists. It's now worse than it was a few hours ago. It hasn't gotten better. There's not cause for celebration. It may, in someone's estimation, help them politically, but it's screwing Kentucky," the governor said in press briefing. 

The reforms, which would have moved future teachers into less generous benefit packages, among other changes, sparked large-scale protests at the Capitol earlier this year. And Kentucky Education Association head Stephanie Winkler says, while teachers want to be a part of a solution, when pension reform talks reboot they’ll be watching.

"Mark my words. Be assured that teachers are going to be on the ball," she said. "They will be paying attention if and when such a type of bill is ever tried to be passed again." 

Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear speaks to a gathering of democrats during the 26th Annual Wendell Ford Dinner, Saturday, Aug. 18, 2018, in Louisville, Ky.
Credit AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley

What's Next?

Republicans viewed the pension measure as a hard-fought victory that would begin finally patching the state’s ailing pension systems, but Thursday’s high court ruling send lawmakers back to square one.

"So what do I hope to see in 2019?" Bevin said. "No less than the initial effort that was made to give us a chance to save this pension system.” 

The governor has warned that the status quo is a recipe for failure and the potential collapse of the pension system. But Beshear and other Democrats argue the governor is engaging in fearmongering, and the state could open up new revenue streams to bolster the retirement system.

"In my opinion, it ought to come from expanded gaming, including casino gaming... sports betting, fantasy sports, and I think we ought to prepare for online poker," the gubernatorial hopeful advised. 

Questions linger, however, about how much revenue expanded gaming could bring in, and whether it has any realistic chance of gaining traction in the GOP-dominated statehouse.

Lawmakers return to Frankfort in January.