Bevin: ‘Onus’ on lawmakers to muster votes for pension plan

May 30, 2019

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin said Thursday it’s up to the GOP-led legislature to muster the votes needed to pass his pension-relief plan in a special legislative session he wants to convene.

Bevin, who has worked for weeks trying to line up support, didn’t offer hints about when he might call lawmakers back into session, saying: “Anytime is the right time to do the right thing.”

Asked if he’s close to getting the votes needed, he told reporters: “Understand this, there’s 138 men and women who have the ability to get this done” — referring to the total number of Kentucky legislators. “The onus falls on the legislature to have the votes to get this done.”

Top lawmakers have said it’s up to the Republican governor to line up support for his plan, which aims to provide relief for some state-funded agencies struggling with surging retirement payments. The proposal would replace a pension measure vetoed by the governor in April after lawmakers had ended this year’s regular legislative session.

When told about Bevin’s comments, Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer said: “There must be some misunderstanding” — quoting a line from a song by the rock group Genesis.

“Because we’ve made it clear all along that it’s the governor’s responsibility to get the votes for his bill,” Thayer said. “We’re not working on members to try to get them to vote for the bill.”

Regional universities as well as county health departments, rape crisis centers and many other quasi-governmental agencies face ballooning pension costs on July 1 unless action is taken.

State leaders worry that inaction would strain the state’s quasi-public agencies and lead to some bankruptcies, elimination of staff and loss of critical services for Kentuckians.

Bevin predicted that lawmakers “will do what is right” to prevent that from happening.

The governor is grappling with the politically treacherous pension issue as he seeks reelection this year. Bevin is being challenged by his political nemesis, Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear, in the November election.

Thayer, a Republican from Georgetown, praised the governor for offering his own pension proposal, making it available to lawmakers and having his team brief legislators on the details.

Bevin has worked hard to try to gather support, said Thayer, adding that he thinks the governor is close to getting the votes needed. Thayer said he supports the proposal.

But Thayer warned there’s no guarantee the issue will be resolved before July.

“I think as every day goes by, there is an increasing likelihood that there will not be a special session, and that those affected by the pension situation ... should probably start preparing for their pension contribution rates to basically double on July 1,” he said.

Bevin’s plan has been endorsed by regional university presidents and picked up support from some representatives of local health departments, mental health centers and other agencies.

His proposal allows the agencies to stay with the Kentucky Retirement Systems at full cost, leave the retirement system by paying a lump sum equal to future projected benefits payments or buy their way out in installment payments over 30 years. It extends a freeze on pension costs for another year for the regional universities and quasi-public agencies.

Bevin said he’s heard from some lawmakers who suggested changes to his plan.

“There may be some modifications,” the governor said. “Some of the suggestions are good.”

Other suggestions, however, aren’t as constructive, he indicated.

“Sometimes people do it as a smoke screen,” Bevin said. “Because if you have enough moving parts, then it’s an excuse to do nothing.”

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