Lawmakers continue to work toward a resolution on public employee pensions, arguably the top unresolved issue of the 2013 legislative session. House and Senate leaders have been at an impasse on systematic changes to pension plans for future state and municipal workers, legislators and judges, as well as funding methods to pay for pension contributions expected to cost up to $120 million more in fiscal year 2015.
House and Senate leaders met with Gov. Steve Beshear Friday, looking to find common ground on a plan to reform Kentucky’s ailing public pension system and avoid a special session this year. Those involved described the meeting as productive, and talks are expected to continue during the upcoming 10-day veto recess. The two legislative chambers have passed fundamentally different retirement plans for future state and municipal workers, and the House has proposed a dedicated funding stream to pay full pension contributions, something the state has not done in years.
House Democratic leaders will likely propose adding a 6 percent sales tax on Kentucky Lottery ticket sales and expanding available lottery games to fund future pension contributions. Rep. Brent Yonts, D-Greenville, said the lottery sales tax would generate $49 million annually, and new lottery games could bring in between $60 million and $90 million over time.
Standard & Poor’s Rating Services has downgraded Kentucky’s financial outlook from “stable” to “negative” amid concerns over unfunded liabilities in the state’s pension systems. While S&P noted the state is experiencing a healthy recovery in its economic base and has moderate debt burden, the ratings service said structural imbalances in the budget and sizable pension debts drove its outlook down.
A public pension reform package is expected to get a vote on the Senate floor about a week after it’s filed, Senate Republican leaders said Wednesday. GOP and Democratic senators heard recommendations from a pension task force co-chaired by Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer in a private meeting Wednesday.
With three storage centers throughout Frankfort, tracking down state records can be a hassle. But a consolidated facility should make archives easier to sort through, a state official says. The construction schedule hasn’t been set, but the new records center will take about seven months to complete, Finance and Administration Cabinet spokeswoman Pamela Trautner said.
Retooling Kentucky’s tax code and reining in multibillion-dollar unfunded liabilities in the state pension systems should be top priorities for the General Assembly when it convenes for an abbreviated session Tuesday, legislators say. Those matters may require a special session given the brevity of odd-year, 30-day sessions, but challenging decisions are ahead, they told The State Journal.
The push to legalize industrial hemp production in Kentucky will begin in the state Senate, Agriculture Commissioner James Comer says. The Kentucky Industrial Hemp Commission, which met Friday for the second time since its decade of dormancy, discussed possible legislation for the upcoming 30-day session. Finding a bill sponsor won’t be difficult, Comer told the panel. Sen. Paul Hornback, R-Shelbyville, was mentioned among those mentioned as a possible sponsor.
Kentucky’s largest retirement fund for state employees, the Kentucky Employees Retirement System non-hazardous plan, has less than a quarter of the money needed to pay projected benefits, say actuaries with Cavanaugh Macdonald Consulting. Tom Cavanaugh, CEO of the actuarial firm, told the Kentucky Retirement Systems Board of Trustees Wednesday that the KERS non-hazardous plan is projected to dip below 10 percent funded in 2019 before improving.
Kentucky’s U.S. senators told a crowd of supporters they will repeal the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, when given the opportunity. About 400 stood on the Capitol steps in Frankfort at a rally headlined by Sens. Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul and organized by the Louisville Tea Party Tuesday. All of the speakers focused on President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare reform law.
Two Kentucky Retirement Systems trustees laid out their concerns with a proposed change in health insurance for retirees older than 65 before a record crowd Tuesday. More than 150 retirees attended the monthly meeting of Kentucky Public Retirees Bluegrass West chapter at Frankfort's VFW Post 4075, which dwarfed the previous record of around 90, KPR officials said. KRS elected trustees Susan Smith and Robert Henson spoke at length about the possible switch from a self-insurance plan to a Humana Medicare Advantage plan for those 65 and older.
The Personnel Board will formally investigate alleged personnel abuses at the Department of Agriculture under Richie Farmer – many of which were uncovered in the blistering audit released earlier this year. The board voted unanimously Friday to open an investigation into personnel matters found in Auditor Adam Edelen’s report on the department during Farmer’s second and final term as commissioner, which ended in 2011.
After teaching high schoolers the ins and outs of government, history and economics for 27 years, state Rep. Derrick Graham has retired from Frankfort High School. Leaving his alma mater was a difficult decision, but Graham, 52, says he’ll be able to focus more on his increasing legislative duties as well as visit family who’ve moved away.
The Kentucky Retirement Systems’ net assets have fallen $680 million in this fiscal year’s first nine months as investment income and contributions failed to cover rising retirement benefits and other expenses. Total assets in the KRS pension and insurance funds dropped from $14.8 billion July 1 to $14.1 billion as of March 31, KRS trustees learned at a board meeting Thursday. KRS collected more than $860 million in contributions and more than $44 million in investment income during those nine months, but paid benefits in that period totaled more than $1.5 billion with about $33 million in additional expenses, according to unaudited KRS financial statements.
The Personnel Board will consider on Monday whether Richie Farmer broke the state merit law at the Department of Agriculture when he was its commissioner. It’s the first time the board will take action on the scathing audit by State Auditor Adam Edelen, but the Personnel Board has recently investigated hiring practices at the department.