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Law makers look for answers to state's pension problem

By: Tim Johnston Email
By: Tim Johnston Email

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WKYT) - The special task force put together to look at the state's pension problems held a meeting today, where they heard from other agencies across the state. The common concern: find a solution no so there's not a greater problem in the future.

"For the last ten years or so, we have not been making full 100% contributions, we know that and that's a part of the problem," said Rep. Mike Cherry (D-Georgetown) in a brief address to the crowd full of people at the Stat Capitol's Annex.

That was only the start to a meeting that doesn't make the future look too bright, right now, for state workers, city workers, teachers, firefighters, and police.

"Our pension system, as you know, is among the most poorly funded in the country," said one speaker to the task force. He went on to say he heard a member of the Federal Reserve advisory board, from St. Louis, was talking about the states across the region and it doesn't look good for the Bluegrass State. According to his presentation, Kentucky has the largest combined debt burden; combing pension debt, state debt, and local debt.

"He referred to Kentucky as the 'Greece of our surrounding states,' which was a sobering and not so flattering reference," explained the speaker.

The issue according to the task force's minutes from their July meeting is that Kentucky faces a funding gap that is roughly $12.5-billion in the red.

"The cities of Kentucky have voted pension reform as their top legislative priority for the past five sessions," stated a representative from the Kentucky League of Cities.

The task force has brought in outside help from the Pew Center. They advise the solution needs to meet three criteria: close the $12.5B funding gap, ensure it keeps retirement promises, and to keep retirement options as a valuable tool to recruit and retain talented workers.

"Don't harm our retirees or employees, but please we need some relief," pleaded one speaker.

They were not alone. Speaker after speaker stood before the task force weighing those points.

"We want to make one point clear," said a man representing the counties of Kentucky, "we support the commitment made to current and retired KRS (Kentucky Retirement Systems) members."

One popular notion, mentioned by the guest speakers, was to ask employees to contribute more into their pension plans, similar to a 401k, but that's just one of the options on the table at this time.

The task force will continue to meet at least one time per month to form a viable solution that they can present to the Legislative Research Commission by December 7th.

The task force reports in their minutes from July that each year, since 2003, the state hasn't been able to keep up in making its employer contributions. In the 2011 Fiscal Year alone, Kentucky should've set aside an additional $166-million to pay for the pension promises.

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