Politics

Gov. Matt Bevin says his proposal to overhaul Kentucky’s troubled pension systems has enough support to pass out of the state legislature, despite skepticism from lawmakers and intense opposition from state workers.

In an interview on the Leland Conway Show on WHAS in Louisville, Bevin said that when the proposal was unveiled the leaders of the state House and Senate “said straight up that they had the votes to pass that bill.”

“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?” Bevin said.

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

Pension Talks Derailed By Harassment Allegations

Bevin unveiled his pension proposal last month along with Senate President Robert Stivers and then-House Speaker Jeff Hoover.

The major thrust of Bevin’s plan would phase out Kentucky’s use of a pension system that guarantees benefits to retirees until death — most future and some current state workers would receive 401(k)-style retirement plans instead.

Teachers and other state workers would also have their benefits capped after 27 years of service and switched into 401(k)-style plans going forward. All employees would be required to pay three percent of their salaries towards the employee retirement health plan and would have their pension benefits suspended if they retired and then returned to a government position later in life.

Bevin has promised to call a special legislative session to tackle pension issues sometime this year, but resistance from state worker groups and a sexual harassment scandal implicating top House Republicans have thrown the legislation into political purgatory.

Bevin said that state workers had wrongly been “worked into a fervor about how this is somehow working against them,” but said he was open to changes to the retiree health fee and reemployment provision.

“Those are genuine things I’ve heard back from folks and I think could be taken into consideration,” Bevin said.

Bevin’s budget director John Chilton said the proposal would likely be changed and that the governor wouldn’t release an actuarial analysis of the bill’s impact, according to an Associated Press report on Monday.

In the WHAS interview, Bevin said the sexual harassment scandal that lead to House Speaker Jeff Hoover’s resignation had “slowed down” the progress of the legislation, but said news outlets covering the story were to blame.

“People’s shenanigans and misbehaviors are much more titillating to people in most of the media,” Bevin said. “They don’t have the capacity to get their heads around or the desire to get their heads around the critical nature of pension reform.”

Combined, Kentucky’s pension systems are among the worst-funded in the nation. The agency that oversees the pension funds for most state workers and retirees announced Monday morning that Kentucky’s pension debt had increased by more than $5 billion over the past year — up to $26.7 billion. That’s due to the agency assuming that investment returns won’t be as large as previously predicted.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.