Group pushes for city, county pension system to be separated from state pensions

LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - The Kentucky League of Cities held a forum in Lexington on Monday evening about their push to separate the County Employees Retirement System, or CERS, from the Kentucky Retirement Systems, or KRS.

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CERS includes city and county employees, including police and firefighters.

The state's pension problems are well-documented, but officials at the forum said that unlike KRS, CERS is growing and in good financial shape. The League of Cities is one of 23 groups making up a coalition urging lawmakers to separate CERs from KRS. They say they want local control for local pensions, and are concerned that further changes to the program would hurt workers' retirements.

"CERS is not in peril. Senate Bill 2 from 2013 stopped the bleeding and put us on that upward trajectory to sustainability," said Bryanna Carroll, governmental affairs manager for the Kentucky League of Cities. "We do not understand the need to make any more reforms to CERS."

Chris Bartley, president of Lexington Professional Firefighters IAFF Local 526, said changes - especially from a pension to a 401(k) - could also hurt recruitment and retention of workers in public safety. He said they want to be at the table for discussions about pension reform.

Several local and state lawmakers attended the forum.

Gov. Matt Bevin is expected to call a special session later this year to address pension reform. On Friday he posted a video on Facebook to reassure current and future retirees.

"One of Gov. Bevin's top priorities is fixing Kentucky's failing pension systems," Amanda Stamper, Gov. Bevin's communications director, said in a statement to WKYT. "CERS is in very weak condition, requiring serious discussions about how to save it. Now is the moment all groups should work together to ensure retirement security for current and future public employees and retirees."

Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, who was at the forum, says CERS separation is part of the conversation, but lawmakers have not yet made decisions about changes to the pension systems.

"We are being very thoughtful in our approach here, because we want to save our public pensions, while also being fair to the taxpayers who fund the public pension systems," Senator Thayer said. "That's the balance we're trying to achieve right now."

Thayer sponsored SB 2 in 2013 that made changes to the state's pension system. During the regular session this year, Thayer voted for a bill to separate CERS from KRS, before the bill was dropped as part of a pension reform effort planned for the special session.

Thayer said once lawmakers agree on the details of a pension reform plan, it will take about a month to draft a pension reform bill. He said a special session could happen as early as October.

Nearly three dozen cities across the commonwealth have already passed resolutions supporting the separation of CERS from KRS. Lexington council members told WKYT's Garrett Wymer that they expect to bring one up for discussion next week.

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