Without SB 151, Bevin says, state pension funds will fail

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Gov. Matt Bevin said Kentucky’s public pension system will fail without reform legislation like Senate Bill 151, which is currently under review by the state’s highest court.

The governor made his comments in front of a crowd of about 75 people at the Wendell H. Ford Regional Training Center in Greenville on Monday evening. He said the Kentucky Employees Retirement System Non-Hazardous fund, which is the state’s lowest-funded at just 16 percent, is slated to fail within four years without intervention. Other funds, like the KentuckyTeachers’ Retirement System, could fail within a decade, he added.

Generally speaking, Kentucky’s pension system is among the lowest-funded in the nation, and Bevin’s administration is defending before the Supreme Court how the Republican-controlled legislature passed its solution. Among other changes, SB 151 would move new teacher hires into a hybrid plan that puts less risk on the state but doesn’t guarantee them the same benefits. The law has drawn bitter criticism from public-sector teachers, in particular, who say it breaks decades-old government promises.

But Bevin said his administration has done more for teachers than any before it. He said his decision to take on Kentucky’s massively underfunded pensions was not popular, but necessary. Only he has pledged to allocate the dollars necessary to fund each system for the foreseeable future.

“The reason all these other governors and legislators didn’t do it is because it’s so much more popular, and you’re so much more well-loved when you take those dollars that don’t go into the pension system and you spend them on pet projects all over the place,” he said. “It’s easy to be a popular governor if you want to be; you just don’t pay the bills.”

SB 151 was passed as a last-minute amendment to wastewater legislation during the 2018 General Assembly session. Attorney General Andy Beshear has said it failed to meet the state’s minimum requirements and didn’t give opponents enough time to read it, but Bevin’s attorneys have said the method Republicans used to pass the bill has been used time and time again by both parties to circumvent the legislature’s tight spring schedule. SB 151, Bevin said, is word-for-word SB 1, which had been debated in Frankfort for weeks.

“Every single legislator knew that SB 151 was SB 1 — that they had talked about for months — minus the handful of things that people said we cannot tolerate,” he said. “So they took SB 1 that they had been talking about for months, took a few pieces out of it, and that was SB 151. They just took out the most objectionable things. So, anybody who tells you that they didn’t read SB 151 because they didn’t have time are either not telling the truth or they never read SB 1.”

If the Supreme Court strikes down the law’s methods, making it unconstitutional, Bevin told reporters Monday that he would try again, because he is dedicated to fixing Kentucky’s pension systems, even if it costs him and Republicans at the polls.

“We got here because both Democrats and Republicans have been kicking cans down the road,” he said. “If I’m the person who says we’re not going to kick anymore and that hurts me politically, then so be it. If I look at the world only through what helps a party, what an insult that is to everyone in Kentucky. What an insult that is to taxpayers if I put the interests of a party before the people and the taxpayers who are funding everything.”

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Written by Austin Ramsey. Cross-posted with permission
from the Messenger-Inquirer via the Kentucky Press News Service.

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