Kentucky Lawmakers Balk at Bid to Push Through Thwarted Pension Overhaul

House members say $43 billion funding problem can’t be resolved over a “five-day session.”

Governor Matt Bevin’s special legislative session orchestrated to revive his now court-blocked pension reform package also tanked as Kentucky legislators ended the debate after a little more than a day.

The surprise session was called Monday evening following the state Supreme Court’s dismissal of a problematic pension reform that Bevin, a Republican, had pushed through the legislature. The measure ran into trouble earlier this year when the Franklin Circuit Court repealed it, and then it lost on appeal to the state’s highest bench last week.

Unsurprisingly, Bevin’s new bid to enact pension reform resembled the overturned version, which targeted the traditional defined benefits of state teachers. The recent proposal looked to put new hires into 401(k)-style plans and limit the amount of sick days that could be accrued toward retirement.

The original reform bill was tucked into a sewage bill at the tail-end of the 2018 legislative session, which provoked an outcry from Democrats and public workers.

A little after 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, acting GOP House Speaker David Osborne, a Republican, told the House that it would take more than a “five-day session” to fix the pension dilemma. The legislature voted to end the session.

With his reforms, Bevin was hoping to start plugging Kentucky’s $43 billion pension hole. At a 31% funding, Kentucky’s public-worker retirement system is one of the worst-funded in the country.

Speaker Osborne insisted that the governor did not call the session for political reasons, adding that he and his colleagues took their mission and the consequences seriously.  Earlier in the day there had been a five-hour closed meeting of the majority House Republicans, who could not agree on the bill’s provisions.

Protesting teachers cheered once they heard the news, but Bevin was again frustrated, telling reporters that the protesters were celebrating and dancing “upon their own financial graves.”

“Tonight is a sad night in the Commonwealth. What is clear is that Kentucky, at this time, does not have the legislative ability to make the difficult decisions before us,” he said in a statement. “The General Assembly has the sole authority to pass the laws needed to reform our failing pension system, and today they came up short of their responsibility as representatives of the people of Kentucky.”

Democrats, however, do not share the same sentiments.

 “Tonight’s adjournment is not only victory for our teachers, police, firefighters, and other public employees, but also a victory for all Kentuckians,” Ben Self, chair of the Kentucky Democratic Party said in a statement. “These two days, wasting more than $100,000, were a full display of Matt Bevin’s erratic and arrogant leadership.”

Neither Bevin nor Osborne could be reached for direct comment.

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