FRANKFORT, Ky. – Some of the consultants’ recommendations to resolve the state pension crisis will never make it though the House, but others could become the foundation for a real solution, according to Kentucky House Speaker Jeff Hoover.
The speaker also took issue with some recent comments of Gov. Matt Bevin and advised all players in the pension debate to “tone down the rhetoric.”
“Obviously there are a lot of things in those recommendations that we will not do and cannot do,” Hoover, a Jamestown Republican, told reporters Tuesday. “But I’m hopeful over the next two or three weeks that we will take those recommendations … and decide what we can do and try to move forward.”
Hoover declined to specify the recommendations in Monday’s report by PFM Consulting Group that he said are doomed. “We can set a foundation with structural changes and other things to make the system better as we move forward,” he said.
The speaker spoke at an impromptu news conference following a closed meeting of House member.
He said he closed the meeting to give House members a chance to ask the PFM consultants and state Budget Director John Chilton questions “without the opportunity for folks to grandstand … to make it a more comfortable setting for them to ask questions.”
Rep. Jim Wayne, D-Louisville, said he left the meeting at the outset after Hoover did not entertain his motion to open the meeting.
“I said essentially that the taxpayers have paid for this consultant to be here, to do the study, and the taxpayers are paying for the members to be here. This should be a public meeting,” Wayne said.
Wayne said that he would decline his legislative pay – $188.22 – for the day.
Wayne and several House Democrats said Tuesday they were disappointed with many of the PFM recommendations that suggest cutting some benefits of retirees and current workers without addressing new revenue from tax reform that they consider crucial to paying off a long-term pension debt of at least $40 billion.
But Hoover said the foundation for solving the crisis can be built using some of the recommendations without addressing tax reform at a special legislative session that Bevin has said he will call this fall.
According to Hoover’s timetable, any special session – which Bevin has exclusive authority to call – seems at least about two months off.
With PFM’s recommendations in hand, Hoover said he hopes legislative leaders and administration officials can come together on a framework for legislation in the next couple of weeks. If so, he said staff members say they’ll need three to four weeks to draft the complex legislation.
After that, Hoover said, “I will insist that our members in the House have sufficient time to study whatever the proposal is, to educate themselves for a period of 30 days or so.”
The speaker also took issue with a recent comment of Bevin criticizing public employees including teachers whom Bevin said have hoarded sick days to enhance their final pension benefits. Hoover said that his wife has been a first-grade teacher for 25 years and did not know how many sick days she had accumulated and did not know those days can be used by a public school teacher to enhance benefits.
“I was disappointed in the governor’s remarks with regard to sick days …” Hoover said. He said he believes many teachers, like his wife, go to work when not feeling well, but not because they want to stockpile sick days to improve their pensions. “She goes to work because, for many of her kids … it’s the only time … during the day that somebody pays attention to them and lets them know somebody cares.”
Bevin declined to speak to reporters later Tuesday after an event in the Capitol, the Associated Press reported.
Hoover said he would “encourage everyone out there to tone down the rhetoric, tone down the hate and the comments.” He said all sides must try to work together to solve the crisis.
Tom Loftus can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 502-875-5136.
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