Lawmakers hear from state workers, retirees at forum addressing pension system

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FRANKFORT, Ky. (WKYT) - State Sen. Julian Carroll and state Rep. Derrick Graham hosted a town hall meeting in Frankfort Saturday morning, taking questions about Kentucky’s pension system.

The system is one of the worst-funded in the country, with an unfunded liability of at least $38 billion.

More than 100 state workers, teachers, retirees and others voiced worries about the future of their benefits.

"The legislators did not fund (our retirement system) like they should have,” said Lucretia Johnson, a retired teacher in Franklin County. “That's the issue."

Steve Clark, a retired Franklin County firefighter, said, “Unfortunately, the can has been kicked down the road so far that it's come to Gov. Bevin's door; and unfortunately he's the one that has to deal with it. I don't like the plan that he's putting forth, but at least he is trying to address the issue.”

Carroll, a former governor himself, responded to questions and explained his opposition to some of the recommendations made by PFM Consulting Group, which Bevin hired to evaluate Kentucky's public pensions.

Those recommendations ask current recipients to shoulder the cost of adequately funding the system, Carroll said.

"That's totally incorrect, illegal, and certainly not fair,” Carroll said. “Because it was the responsibility of state government to fund the systems in the first place.”

Comments from the governor and proposed changes to benefits have some educators rethinking their futures.

“Governor Bevin, I am outraged by what you said about teachers,” Cathy Carter, a teacher in Fayette County, said at the meeting. “"I could retire now. I'm 30 years in. I'm not ready to retire, but I have to make that a possibility now.”

Others said Kentucky is missing out on new revenue by not legalizing casino gambling.

“Folks are going to go to the casinos, but all that money is going to go to our neighboring states,” Finance Cabinet employee Skip Hayes said.

While already a deeply partisan issue, many in attendance at Saturday's meeting said what's at stake with the state pension system goes well beyond party politics.

"As in it's not Democrat or Republican," Johnson said. “It's an issue that affects our lives; and I am very concerned that we will not have the money in our funding when we retire."

Bevin has called for a special session to tackle pension reform sometime later this year.

Meanwhile, Carroll has filed a bill to allow sports betting at Kentucky horse tracks and off-track wagering facilities, with the majority of generated revenue going to fund two of the state's retirement systems.

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