pension reform

No Breakthroughs Yet on Kentucky Pension Reform

Mar 8, 2013

Gov. Steve Beshear has concluded a meeting with a bipartisan group of legislative leaders without breaking an impasse on pension reform legislation.

The Democratic-controlled House and Republican-led Senate have been at loggerheads on how to shore up the financially troubled pension plans for state and local government retirees.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo called the Friday morning meeting a first step. He's said everyone involved wants to resolve the issue now to avoid the cost of a special legislative session later.

Among the major sticking points: A Senate proposal to create a 401(k)-like retirement plan for new employees and a House proposal to use money from the lottery and horse tracks to boost the state's yearly pension contribution.

Kentucky House and Senate leaders have changed the schedule of this year's legislative session to avoid a special session.

A potential—and costly—special session has loomed over the General Assembly in recent days, as lawmakers continued work on pension reform. Instead of convening Friday, lawmakers will work on Tuesday, with hopes that talks started Thursday night could lead to an agreement on pension reform by then.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo says those talks have included the Governor and Senate leaders. 

"The only conversation that we've had with them has obviously revolved around pensions, funding of pension liabilities and just a brief conversation about redistricting," he says.

A Kentucky House bill aiming to help generate revenues for the underfunded pension system is in legal limbo as the Senate refused to accept the bill.

House Bill 416 takes revenues from expansion of Instant Racing and online lottery sales and the start of a Keno game to generate close to $100 million a year to pay into state's currently underfunded pensions for state employees.

Revenue bills in odd-year sessions must have 60 House votes in final passage to be considered within the rules; House Bill 416 only received 52 on the floor. Because of that, the Senate clerk refused to accept the bill.

But House Speaker Greg Stumbo says the Senate should amend the bill and send it back to the House for final passage if it wants to avoid a special session.

The Kentucky House has narrowly passed two bills dealing with the state's underfunded pension system, but not without controversy.

The House passed an amended  version of Senate Bill 2, which keeps the pension systems as a defined benefit and creates a new oversight panel for Kentucky's many pension plans. It passed on party lines 55-45, with Democrats favoring.

It also passed House Bill 416, which takes revenues from the potential expansion and legalization of Instant Racing, from online lottery sales and a new Keno game.

That bill passed with 52 votes, but many Republican members argued that the action was illegal, since revenue bills take a House supermajority of 60 votes to pass in odd-year session.

The Kentucky House budget committee has advanced a bill designed to provide extra revenues for the state's underfunded pension systems.

House Bill 416 would use revenues from the expansion of Instant Racing if the state Supreme Court upholds the legality of the game. It will also use expanded lottery sales and the proceeds from a new Keno game.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo says the bill does not ask lawmakers to legalize Instant Racing.

"We're simply saying if it is upheld, here is a fund that captures this money that's used to pay off this unfunded liability in our pension fund. So we're not asking you to vote to expand gaming," said Stumbo.

The state pension system would not transition to a hybrid 401K-style plan in an amended version of the pension reform bill.

The amended bill also only allows plans to set up a new 11-person committee to provide direct oversight over the pension systems.

And cost of living adjustments are no longer banned under the bill, but can only be allowed if there is a surplus in the retirement systems or if lawmakers prepay for the expense.

The House State Government Committee passed the amended Senate Bill 2 on Tuesday on a party line vote. Many Republican members passing on their votes.

Lawmakers won't pursue a 6 percent tax on lottery tickets as a source of revenue to shore up Kentucky's financially troubled pension system for government retirees.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo said that idea was rejected out of concern that a tax might stifle sales of lottery tickets that generate money for education programs in Kentucky.

Instead, Stumbo said lawmakers will unveil legislation on Tuesday that will call for the lottery to create new games, including Keno, that he said could generate about $25 million for the pension system.

He said the legislation would also call for tax revenue from slot-like machines, called Instant Racing machines, at horse tracks to be designated for pensions. He said that could eventually net $100 million a year for pensions.

Kentucky LRC

Lawmakers are looking to the lottery for a source of revenue to shore up Kentucky's financially troubled pension system for government retirees.

Rep. Brent Yonts, chairman of the House State Government Committee that oversees pensions, said Friday the latest proposal would institute a 6 percent sales tax on lottery ticket sales and implement new games, which could include Keno.

The Greenville Democrat said a lottery tax could generate $49 million a year and that adding more games could generate $70 million to $90 million. He said those actions could be enough to cover the state's full contribution to the pension system, which has a $33 billion unfunded liability.

Yonts' committee is scheduled to vote on pension legislation next Tuesday. The House Appropriations and Revenue Committee would vote separately on the lottery proposal.

Kevin Willis

Kentucky lawmakers have passed the halfway point in the current legislative session without a deal in sight to shore up the financially troubled pension system for government retirees.

They have only 14 working days remaining before adjourning for the year. However, Gov. Steve Beshear has said he may call lawmakers back into special session if they adjourn without taking action to bolster the pension system, which has a $33 billion unfunded liability.

The Senate passed a measure earlier this month that requires the state to fully fund the pension system but that did not specify where the money would come from.

The House is considering a variety of options to pay the state's contribution, including raising the cigarette to $1 a pack to generate about $100 million a year.

A leading Kentucky lawmaker says raising the cigarette tax to $1 a pack would generate about $100 million a year that could be used to shore up the pension system for government retirees.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo told reporters that that's one of several options House lawmakers are considering to bolster the pension system, which has a $33 billion unfunded liability.

The Republican-controlled Senate passed a bill last week that requires the state to make its full contribution to the pension system but doesn't identify a funding source to do that. Stumbo said the Democratic-led House wants a designated funding source.

The Senate bill also would create a 401(k)-like hybrid retirement plan that some House lawmakers want to remove from the legislation.

Kentucky LRC

An effort to reform Kentucky's underfunded pension systems passed in its first hearing Wednesday from a state Senate committee meeting.

Senate Bill 2 stems from the recommendations of a legislative task force  that met over the summer to try and solve the pension problems.

It includes a suspension of cost of living adjustments and creates a new hybrid plan that acts like a 401-K with a promised rate of return.

State Sen. Damon Thayer, the bill sponsor, said the need for pension reform isn't a partisan one.

Another change in Kentucky’s financial outlook has the state’s business leaders calling on the General Assembly for immediate pension reforms.

Standard and Poor’s has changed Kentucky’s outlook to negative, citing the state's large unfunded pension obligations as the main reason.

In response, the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, as well as 50 other business groups, held a news conference to demand that lawmakers pass the recommendations from last year’s pension task force as they were presented.

Chamber President and former Owensboro mayor David Adkission said the change is the best reason for why reforms need to happen soon.

Current Kentucky state employees and retirees packed the Capitol Rotunda to encourage lawmakers to rethink some proposals made by a task force on public pensions last year.

Calling themselves the Kentucky Public Pension Coalition, the group of more than a dozen interested organizations encouraged their members to tell lawmakers not to switch to a hybrid pension plan for new hires and to reinstate cost of living adjustments every year.

Bill Londrigan is the president of the Kentucky AFL-CIO and a member of the coalition. And he says a study by the group shows a hybrid 401K plan reduces benefits year after year.

“You know if you look at it, you’ll see the estimates decrease benefits over the long term, something we’re totally against,” he says.

Kentucky LRC

Kentucky legislative leaders say solutions on how to pay for Kentucky’s underfunded pensions won’t likely be addressed in the 2013 legislative session.

Both House Speaker Greg Stumbo and Senate President Robert Stivers say there will likely be a bill to introduce changes to the pension systems. But they also agree that such a bill is unlikely to deal how to fund the changes.

What they disagree on is when to deal with the funding solutions. Stumbo says pension funding should be dealt with in a special session, hand in hand with tax reform.

“There’ll be a bill, I don’t know whether it will be addressed," Stumbo says. "I think that we need, probably, to address the entire issue and that include the funding mechanism."

But Stivers says lawmakers should pass the changes now and deal with fully funding the pension system starting in 2014, when a new budget must be passed.

LRC Public Information

Kentucky lawmakers Tuesday began the new legislative session with a lot on their plates. Legislators are expected to take up the state's struggling pension system for government retirees, changes to the state tax code, legislative redistricting, and more.

The House and Senate convened at noon eastern time.

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