Bevin to make pension pitch to Owensboro chamber of commerce

Gov. Matt Bevin will address the Greater Owensboro Chamber of Commerce Tuesday, Oct. 31 about proposed changes to the state’s public employee and teacher pension systems.

The presentation, at 11:30 a.m. at the Owensboro Convention Center, is one of several such talks Bevin has given around the the state in recent days, Press Secretary Woody Maglinger said.

“Today he was in Lexington,” Maglinger said. “Last week, the Greater Louisville Chamber invited him” and he made a similar presentation in northern Kentucky, he said.

“He is trying to get around the state as much as possible.”

The presentation is for Chamber of Commerce members only.

Earlier this month, Bevin and the Republican leaders of the House and Senate announced an outline of a plan to address the state’s underfunded teacher and public employee pension plans. The state has more retired workers drawing pensions than there are people paying into the system. Also, the systems did not have financial returns that met expectations and were not fully funded at times by state legislators.

The proposed fix calls for some dramatic changes, such as eliminating all defined benefit plans for teachers, and county and state workers in non-hazardous jobs hired after the plan takes effect in July, in favor of giving them defined contribution accounts similar to 401(k) plans. Workers who already have defined benefit plans will have them converted to the 401(k) style plans after they become eligible for retirement if they choose to keep working.

Bevin is “trying to hit as many (places) east to west as he can, leading up to the special session,” Maglinger said. The plan, in bill form, was released late Friday and Bevin is expected to call a special session soon.

“The latest he said was we are very close,” Maglinger said. “He is close to having a date, but hasn’t announced it yet.”

The Kentucky Chamber of Commerce announced its support for the Republican pension plan. In a press release Friday, the Kentucky Chamber said Bevin’s proposal “offers an unprecedented opportunity to make meaningful, substantive changes in Kentucky’s pension systems to address a crisis that threatens the financial viability of the state.”

Kentucky’s pension problem is considered the worst in the nation. In September, S&P Global Rating said the state has a $31.2 billion deficit in its retirement systems, although other estimates put the deficit much higher.

“The Chambers, when they knew this was going to be rolled out, they reached out in having (Bevin) explain what is in the plan,” Maglinger said. The forums are an opportunity to discuss “why we are doing this, and why this is a situation that needs to be addressed,” he said.

In an email, Candance Brake, president and CEO of the Owensboro chamber, said the organization hasn’t taken a position on the proposed changes.

“We are pleased that the legislative leaders in our Commonwealth are tackling the issue of pension reform,” Brake said. “… Our role with regard to this issue will be to facilitate and to frame the issue not to endorse or oppose the actual legislation,” Brake said.

When the outline of the plan was released publicly, Sen. Joe Bowen, an Owensboro Republican, said he believes Republicans in the House and Senate have the votes to pass the bill in special session. Republicans control both the House and Senate.

When asked why Bevin was campaigning for a plan it appeared he already had the votes to pass, Maglinger said, “He wanted to make sure people have the information they need” to understand the plan.

“He wanted to give people an opportunity to see how it would affect them,” Maglinger said.

By James Mayse Messenger-Inquirer