pensions

A Daviess County lawmaker isn’t surprised by a consultant’s report released this week that shows how Kentucky’s pension systems became the worst funded in the nation. 

A consultant’s report released this week shows the systems combined have seen nearly $7 billion in negative cash flow since 2005, as benefits paid to retirees greatly exceeded appropriated funding. 

State Senator Joe Bowen of Owensboro co-chairs the Public Pension Oversight Board.  He says there are a number of reasons why the retirement plans got into the current crisis. 

For one, the state has been basing contributions to pension plans on a level percent of payroll rather than a level dollar.

"We funded based on an anticipation of payroll growth that never happened," Bowen told WKU Public Radio.  "Instead of just a level dollar funding mechanism, we used a percent of payroll, and the payroll never happened, so we kept getting further and further behind."

Kentucky Needs $700 Million More Per Year for Pension Debt

May 23, 2017
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Independent consultants say Kentucky taxpayers need to spend an extra $700 million each year to keep their troubled public pension systems afloat.

That's on top of the nearly $2 billion taxpayers are scheduled to spend on all of the state's retirement systems in the fiscal year that begins July 1.

State lawmakers were briefed on the report Monday. It's the second of three commissioned studies of the state's pension system. The final report will detail recommendations about how the state can raise the necessary funds.

Kentucky's Retirement Debt Soars After Pessimistic Outlook

May 18, 2017
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Kentucky's worst-in-the-nation public pension system is now worse than ever.

The state's pension debt grew by roughly $2 billion on Thursday after the retirement system's governing body made dramatic changes to long-held investment assumptions. As a result, state taxpayers will have to pay significantly more into the system to keep it solvent. Just how much more will not be known until later this year.

The bleeding is likely not over. The changes approved Thursday apply to the system that covers most state workers. But regulators are mulling similar changes to the system that covers local government workers. If approved, those changes would likely add another $2 billion more to the debt and force taxpayers to pay even more to keep the system afloat.

Mending Mining Country: Three Ways Trump Could Help Miners And Coal Communities

May 15, 2017
Alexandra Kanik

At a March ceremony to sign an executive order reversing Obama-era environmental regulations, coal miners were arranged on stage around President Donald Trump as he took up his pen.

“You know what it says, right?” Trump asked the miners. “You’re going back to work.”

From his campaign rallies to White House events, President Donald Trump has surrounded himself with coal miners and promised to restore their collapsed industry.

McConnell Plays Dual Role In Miners’ Benefits Saga

May 4, 2017
becca schimmel

Retired miners will not lose their health benefits, as had been feared, thanks to last-minute action from Congress. However, Congress did not act on the miners’ faltering pension benefits fund, which supports some 43,000 retired miners in the Ohio Valley region.

The health and pension benefits had been connected in legislation in Congress called the Miners Protection Act, but were split in the final push to include benefits protections in a federal spending bill.

Both the successful extension of the health benefits and the failure to act on pensions have a lot to do with one key player: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

 


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Jim Carroll started working for Kentucky’s state parks system in 1978 making $780 a month.

“So I knew the pay wasn’t good but I knew that it was a place where you could advance over time,” Carroll said. “It was stable, and retirement was part of that.”

Carroll later worked in the tourism cabinet and retired in 2009. Since then, he’s organized a group of concerned state pensioners called Kentucky Government Retirees.

Carroll draws a monthly pension from the retirement system for most of Kentucky’s state workers, Kentucky Retirement Systems. Depending how you measure it, KRS has one of the lowest funding levels in the nation.

WFPL

Kentucky’s public pension system, which officially faces an $18.1 billion unfunded liability, might be in worse shape than previously thought.

The bigger potential problem for Kentucky Retirement Systems means taxpayers could be on the hook for much more money to honor pension commitments to about 365,000 public employees, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported.

KRS board chairman John Farris told fellow trustees Thursday that KRS made math errors in recent years. The state pension agency relied on overly optimistic assumptions about its investment returns, the growth of state and local government payrolls and the inflation rate, he said.

Kentucky LRC

Legislation aimed at creating stricter reporting requirements to boost oversight of Kentucky's troubled pension systems has cleared the state Senate.

The measure seeks to shed more light on the fees and investment practices of the pension systems. The measure passed the Senate on a 37-0 vote Wednesday and heads next to the House.

Republican Sen. Joe Bowen of Owensboro, the bill's lead sponsor, calls the proposal a "critical first step" to increase transparency and accountability of the pension systems.

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An organization of current and retired Kentucky public school teachers has filed a class action lawsuit against Gov. Matt Bevin and legislative leaders for underfunding the teacher pension system, which lost $1.2 billion last year.

The Teachers Retirement Legal Fund says leaders violated state law as well as the U.S. and Kentucky constitutions by not setting aside enough money for the Kentucky Teachers Retirement System, which manages the pensions of about 141,000 school system retirees.

Randy Wieck, a history teacher at DuPont Manual High School in Louisville, said teachers have dutifully contributed to the pension system from their paychecks but the state hasn’t kept its side of the bargain.

“We don’t want to retire into poverty because we don’t have Social Security. So this is all most teachers have,” said “The end result we hope will be the saving of our retirement.”

Kentucky’s troubled pension systems continue their downward slide. Plans covering teachers and state employees lost $1.8 billion this year, bringing the total unfunded liability to more than $32 billion.

David Eager, interim executive director of KRS, addressed the Public Pension Oversight Board this week.  Co-Chairman Joe Bowen, a state senator from Owensboro, says the news isn’t all bad.

"What folks need to understand is that we have seven retirement systems that are publicly funded, and there's actually only one that you would consider to be in dire straits," Bowen told WKU Public Radio.

That pension plan is the Kentucky Employees Retirement System, or KERS, which has only 16 percent of the funds needed to pay the benefits of future retirees. That makes it among the worst-funded public pension plans in the country.

Other retirement plans covering teachers, judges, and lawmakers are in much better shape.

J. Tyler Franklin

Kentucky lawmakers are once again calling for transparency in the state’s pension agencies, which manage the worst-funded public retirement funds in the nation.

Even though legislators on both sides of the aisle agree on some transparency provisions, the issue has taken on a political tone ahead of high-stakes races to determine control of the state House of Representatives this fall.

Last week Rep. James Kay, a Democrat from Versailles, proposed a bill for the upcoming legislative session that would alter how the pension agency for most state workers — Kentucky Retirement Systems — operates. The legislation would make pension contracts and investments public, and require the agency to operate under the same purchasing guidelines as state government.

Kay said the bill would give state employees and the public peace of mind.

“They would better know how their contributions and tax dollars are being invested,” Kay said in a news release. “This system needs less secrecy and more accountability, and my bill provides for both.”

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A new study shows that Kentucky has the worst-funded pension system in the nation, compounded by the fact that of all the states, the commonwealth is doing the worst at paying off its pension debt.

According to a new survey by S&P Global Ratings, Kentucky has $31. 2 billion in unfunded pension liabilities, and the state’s various pension funds have 37.4 percent of the money they need to make payouts to current and future retirees, the lowest ratio of all states.

Last month, state pension officials reported that the main pension fund for state workers — the $1.9 billion Kentucky Employees Retirement Systems non-hazardous fund — is only 17 percent funded and declined by about $347 million over the fiscal year that ended on June 30.

Officials blame $326 million of the loss on “negative cash flows associated with employer contributions” — which includes funds from local governments, the state and other agencies that participate in KERS — and a 4 percent increase in the number of retirees to whom the system had to pay benefits. The fund also saw a 0.68 percent decline in investment returns, attributing that to a loss of $21 million.

Meanwhile, the agency that manages the fund, Kentucky Retirement Systems, paid $123 million in fees to investment managers — a practice that has drawn fire from some lawmakers for being too secretive and costly.

Ryland Barton

Kentucky Retirement Systems board member Tommy Elliott says he didn’t attend a recent meeting of the pension board because he says there was a “dynamic of fear” over whether he would be arrested by state troopers for participating.

Franklin Circuit Court Judge Phillip Shepherd temporarily restored Elliott to the pension board last month after Elliott sued Gov. Matt Bevin for removing him from the governing body three years before the end of his appointed term.

However, Elliott didn’t attend two recent KRS board meetings, prompting the judge last week to question whether Elliott should remain on the board and inviting the governor’s office to move to have the court order him removed.

On Wednesday, Elliott testified that he didn’t attend one of the recent meetings because he was afraid he’d get arrested.

WFPL

The absence of the former board chair of the Kentucky Retirement Systems at official meetings is “not acceptable,” according to a judge who temporarily blocked the governor from removing the official.

Franklin Circuit Court Judge Phillip Shepherd ruled last week that Tommy Elliott could still be a member of the agency’s Board of Trustees while the court decides if the governor had the power to remove him from the board three years before his appointed term was set to end.

But Elliott did not attend meetings of the full KRS board or investment committee last week.

During a scheduling hearing on Tuesday, Shepherd said the poor condition of the pension system is an “all-hands-on-deck situation” and he criticized Elliott for not showing up.

“If Mr. Elliott’s too busy to serve, he ought to resign or he ought to be prepared to be replaced,” Shepherd said.

J. Tyler Franklin

Democratic lawmakers criticized one of the state retirement systems’ use of hedge funds after reports showing the practice hasn’t paid off in recent years despite hefty, often secretive fees for investment managers.

“They hide their fees and they have low performance, so what the hell are we doing in hedge funds?” asked state Rep. Jim Wayne, a Democrat from Louisville.

Kentucky Retirement Systems, which manages the pension funds of about 350,000 state workers, has 10.2 percent of its investments tied up in hedge funds. Over the last fiscal year, KRS investments’ declined by 0.5 percent, and the system only has about 17 percent of the money it needs to make future payouts to retirees.

Hedge funds performed poorly last year, with a 5.5 percent average decline in value. Kentucky Retirement Systems spent $123.1 million on fees for investment managers last year.

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