Some Kentucky lawmakers say drastic recommendations issued to pay down the state’s pension debt have no legislative support.
Legislators from south central Kentucky addressed a packed room last night of public workers and retirees in Bowling Green concerned about how pension reforms will change their benefits. Among them was Terry Eidson who retired from state government in 2006.
"Employees and retirees are feeling a little devalued and demeaned in all this, and it just doesn't sit well," Eidson told WKU Public Radio.
Kentucky has a pension deficit of at least $30 billion, threatening the state’s ability to pay retirement benefits for current and future retirees. In order to return the pension plans to solvency, consultants have recommended an end to defined-benefit pensions for public employees in favor of less generous defined-contribution accounts and a raise in the retirement age to 65 for most workers.
Sixty-six-year-old George Scott, a retired captain from the Bowling Green Police Department, came to the meeting concerned about another recommendation to roll back previously awarded cost-of-living adjustments, or COLAS, to some retirees.
"I retired in 1993. If they took all the COLAS, I'd lose 26 percent of my pension and I can't afford that," explained Scott.
Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers said they are committed to protecting those already in the system. Representative Jim DeCesare of Warren County said lawmakers have a moral obligation to protect the benefits of retirees and active employees.
"Those commitments have been made and life decisions have been made based on those commitments," stated DeCesare. "We can't go and make knee-jerk reactions just based on one report. We have to put the human element into the decision-making process."
Lawmakers also assured the crowd that whatever changes are made to pension benefits, there will not be any emergency clauses. They said the public will get at least 90 days to consider whether to retire under the old system or continue working under a new retirement plan.
Lawmakers said tax reform alone won’t raise enough revenue to restore the retirement systems to solvency and there will have to be changes for new hires.
Lawmakers also expressed concern about an increase in retirements since the recommendations were released in late August.