Gov. Matt Bevin
Gov. Matt Bevin announced a special session of the Kentucky General Assembly to begin in four hours on Monday night, tasking them with passing a pension bill | Screenshot via governor’s Facebook page

By Jack Brammer | Lexington Herald-Leader

Gov. Matt Bevin strongly dismissed a House Democratic plan to provide financial relief on skyrocketing pension costs for regional universities and quasi-governmental agencies, saying it makes too many assumptions and “frankly is immoral.”

The Republican governor also said on Monday that he was calling a special legislative session on Friday starting at 8 a.m. to address the problem.

Bevin’s comments came at Kentucky Chamber’s 2019 Business Summit in front of several hundred people. The business organization invited both Bevin and the Democratic nominee, Attorney General Andy Beshear, to attend but Beshear, who asserted the chamber supports Bevin, declined. An empty chair was placed next to Bevin and moderator Jacqueline Pitts, communications director for the chamber.

Less than 24 hours after House Democrats unveiled an alternative to Bevin’s pension-relief bill, Bevin made it clear he did not like it. Republicans outnumber Democrats in the House 61 to 29.

House Minority Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook, said, “It’s disappointing that Gov. Bevin would tear down a plan that was offered as a good-faith and bipartisan effort by the House Democrats”

“Our proposals have been well-received by the stakeholders and are backed up with a solid actuarial analysis,” Adkins said. “What is immoral is taking away the retirement security that thousands of dedicated public servants have been counting on for years if not decades.”

The goal of the Democratic plan and Bevin’s is to provide financial relief to regional universities and quasi-governmental agencies like mental health centers and libraries in steep spikes in their public-pension costs.

They have argued on how to deal with retirement security for the employees involved.

The Democratic plan would adjust assumptions Kentucky Retirement Systems uses to calculate employer costs each year and expect more money from its investments.

For example, the investment rate would — for one year only — be moved from the current 5.25% to 6% while payroll growth would go from 0% to 1% per year.

“They assume more money from the markets,” said Bevin, saying such a plan was “unacceptable, frankly immoral.”

Of Beshear’s absence at the meeting, Bevin said: “You get to choose one of the two of us. You have to decide how do you respond to the fact that someone is not willing to sit and speak with you.”

In a second four-year term, Bevin said his priorities would be addressing the state’s pension crisis and modernizing its tax laws.

He touted his administration’s economic development efforts, noting that the state ended the fiscal year June 30 with nearly a $200 million surplus and has recorded about $20 billion in private capital investment since he took office in December 2015 — an all-time record for any four-year administration.

He said he did not worry that polls show him with low favorability ratings. “I’ve always been unpopular,” Bevin said.

In the Monday announcement, Bevin’s office noted that two and one-half months ago, the governor introduced a proposal to provide immediate fiscal relief to the state’s quasi-agencies and provide long-term options.

“This bill has been thoroughly vetted and improved with input from legislators,” the announcement said. “It is the only fiscally responsible plan that provides our regional universities and quasi-governmental agencies with a path to a sustainable future.”

Insider contributed reporting.

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