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Bevin, Democratic lawmaker exchange barbs over pension plan

Posted at 1:42 PM, Jul 02, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-02 13:42:04-04

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — When Kentucky's Republican governor reached out to lawmakers to outline changes to his pension-relief proposal, a Democratic representative read the electronic version but decided to make a point with the paper copy — sending it back unopened, the envelope marked "Return to Sender."

"I sent that back intentionally to generate a conversation," Rep. Jeff Donohue said this week.

The four-term Louisville lawmaker didn't get the response he anticipated. Bevin took to social media on Monday to make a point of his own.

"Maybe he thinks that's cute," the governor said as his video showed a close-up of the envelope returned by Donohue. "Shame on you. Shame on you because I'm willing to bet you probably open the envelopes in which your paycheck comes."

Bevin, who often takes to social media to lambaste his critics, added: "The people of Kentucky deserve better than this."

The governor tweeted that Democrats like Donohue are treating efforts to resolve pension problems "like unwanted junk mail."

Democrats snapped back, saying Bevin has become so defensive about his struggles on the pension issue that he's lashing out over an envelope. With supermajorities in both the Senate and the House, Republicans don't need a single Democratic vote to pass a bill if they can agree among themselves.

"As usual, when Governor Bevin's inability to govern catches up with him, he tries to blame someone else and starts making things up," said state Democratic Party spokeswoman Marisa McNee.

Meanwhile, Donohue said he'd welcome a meeting with Bevin and urged lawmakers to work together on the state's pension woes.

The exchange comes as Bevin has struggled to generate enough support from the legislature to pass his pension measure in a special session he wants to convene. Bevin's team says it's confident enough votes have been rounded up but was having difficulties scheduling a special session around lawmakers' vacations and other commitments.

Bevin's proposal would replace a bill the governor vetoed in April after lawmakers had ended their regular session. His new plan aims to provide relief for regional universities as well as county health departments, rape crisis centers and many other quasi-governmental agencies now saddled with surging costs in one of the nation's most troubled pension systems.

State leaders worry that inaction would strain the quasi-public agencies and lead to some bankruptcies, elimination of staff and loss of critical services.

Bevin's proposal allows the agencies to stay with the Kentucky Retirement Systems at full cost; leave the retirement system by paying a lump sum equal to future projected benefits payments; or buy their way out in installment payments over 30 years. It extends a freeze on pension costs for another year for the regional universities and quasi-public agencies. Bevin agreed to a handful of changes in hopes of breaking the gridlock.

Donohue said Monday that he read the email version of the governor's letter sent to lawmakers in early June. He returned the paper copy unopened, he said, to make the point that Democratic proposals to the pension legislation should get full consideration. The governor's office received Donohue's unopened letter last week, a Bevin spokesman said.

"I would be glad to sit down with the governor any time to discuss why I think his plan is not enough and why our caucus' ideas should be considered," Donohue said in a statement. "That's how the legislative process is supposed to work."

In a phone interview, Donohue praised the outreach of Bevin's team, saying his key aides have been "very gracious" in briefing lawmakers of both parties on the governor's proposal. But Democrats think Bevin hasn't been receptive to their requests to meet with him to discuss their proposals, he said.

As for Bevin's social media attack, the lawmaker said: "It's pettiness. And I don't understand that. Anytime I have an issue, I pick that telephone up or I walk to their office."