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Beshear's Pension Plan Has To Jump Hurdles

FRANKFORT — A bill that would extend local governments' payments into the state's ailing pension system might have opposition in the coming legislative session because of growing concern over the system's ballooning shortfalls, reports the Lexington Herald-Leader in its Sunday edition.

Gov. Steve Beshear has backed a plan that would expand payments that cities and counties are supposed to make into the state's ailing retirement system from five to 10 years.

Under the extended payment plan, local governments would pay less in the first few years but pay more overall. The extended payment plan could save local governments as much as $37 million in the next year, Beshear said at a December press conference announcing the plan.

Rep. Mike Cherry, D-Princeton, has filed a bill that would move cities and counties to the delayed-payment schedule. But the measure probably will have opposition in the Republican-controlled Senate and from the Kentucky Retirement Systems board because of concerns about the system's expanding shortfalls.

The Kentucky Retirement Systems and the Kentucky Teacher Retirement System are facing shortfalls of at least $30 billion.

Cherry, however, is optimistic that he will be able to persuade his Senate counterparts to get behind the bill. And he is likely to get help from mayors and county judge executives who are trying to provide essential services while revenues decline.

"I don't think it will create problems down the road," Cherry said. "The cities and counties are not saving any money whatsoever, it's just shifting the burden to later down the road. We've got to think the economy is going to get a lot better in the next few years."

Sylvia Lovely, executive director of the Kentucky League of Cities, said her organization and its members will be supporting the bill because it provides much-needed fiscal relief to counties and cities.

But Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, who co-chairs the committee the bill would go through in the Senate, said there has been reluctance in the Senate to support any measure that could cause financial hardship to the pension system.

"There is not much support for that in the Senate," Thayer said of the extended payment schedule. "I sympathize with the local governments. But that bill would roll back some of the progress that we made in House Bill 1, in terms of contributions to the system and keeping the system solvent."

During a 2007 summer special session, the General Assembly approved a series of changes to the pension system to make it more solvent, reports the Lexington Herald-Leader.

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