Kentucky GOP leaders sending mixed messages on pension bill

Posted at 7:18 PM, Jan 03, 2018
and last updated 2018-01-03 19:18:39-05

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Key House Republicans in Kentucky sent mixed messages Wednesday as lawmakers work behind the scenes to craft a bill to overhaul one of the country’s worst-funded pension systems.

On the second day of the 2018 legislative session, House Speaker Pro Tem David Osborne told reporters he is hopeful a pension measure can be passed in the first two weeks of the session.

Osborne said fellow Republican Rep. Jerry Miller has been designated as the House’s point person on pension discussions. But Miller later said he hasn’t heard anything new about pension legislation since Christmas.

“I suspect there has been discussion at our leadership level, but I haven’t been privy to that,” Miller said. “I think our leadership has been quite distracted.”

The challenge of revamping the state’s public pension systems comes as the GOP-led House is embroiled in ongoing questions about who will be in charge as the chamber’s speaker. House Speaker Jeff Hoover has temporarily stepped aside amid an investigation of a sexual harassment settlement he and three other Republican lawmakers signed last year. He denied sexual harassment, but said he sent inappropriate but consensual text messages to a woman who once worked for the House Republican caucus.

Osborne is acting as speaker “until further notice,” leading to confusion about who’s in charge.

Senate President Robert Stivers acknowledged that the unresolved question of who will serve as House speaker is “somewhat slowing the process” on the pension bill.

The timing of a pension bill rollout remains uncertain. This year’s legislative session will last 60 working days stretching into the spring. Stivers said it’s possible the measure’s rollout could occur before Republican Gov. Matt Bevin presents his budget plan to lawmakers on Jan 16.

One factor in the timing of the unveiling is that Republican leaders are awaiting an actuarial analysis on how much draft pension proposals would cost taxpayers.

Bevin wanted to convene a special legislative session late last year to vote on a proposed pension overhaul, but his plan drew significant opposition from state workers.

State workers are owed billions of dollars in benefits over the next 30 years, but the government is at least $41 billion short, according to official estimates.

The plan proposed by Bevin and other GOP leaders last October would have eventually closed the pension system and replaced it with a 401(k)-style plan while capping benefits for current employees at 27 years of service and imposing a 3 percent pay cut.

Stivers, a Republican from Manchester, said Wednesday that the new pension bill will address concerns raised by state workers, and is a product of collaborative efforts.

“There are some things that have come from ... differing perspectives that people have brought to us that will be incorporated in the final bill,” he said.

Stivers promised that the public will have “ample opportunity” to review and comment on the pension bill once it’s introduced.