A quick look at the figures behind the Commonwealth’s pension shortfall.
Mary Ann Gerth/Courier-Journal/USA TODAY Network/Wochit
FRANKFORT, Ky. — The Kentucky Retirement Systems board deferred action Thursday on requests that it urge Gov. Matt Bevin and lawmakers to protect current benefits of public workers and retirees when they consider pension reform later this year.
Bevin appointed most of the board’s members including its chairman, John Farris, who anticipated the requests and remarked at the outset of the meeting that the board oversaw the systems and managed its investments, but did not “set pension policy.”
During the public comment portion of the meeting Jim Carroll, president of the advocacy group Kentucky Government Retirees, asked the board to pass a resolution announcing its intention to defend the constitutional rights of retirees and employees — even if it meant going to court.
While Carroll’s request produced no action, later in the meeting one of the board members, Jerry Powell, who was not appointed by Bevin but elected to the board by members of the County Employees Retirement System, made a motion that the board urge Bevin and the legislature to honor the contractual rights of all public employees.
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That forced consideration of the issue, and a brief debate where the board’s executive legal adviser Mark Blackwell echoed Farris’ comments, saying he believed giving such opinions or making such requests “is beyond the scope of the trustees’ responsibilities.”
The board ultimately voted to have the matter reviewed by its legal staff in more depth and report at its next meeting, scheduled for Nov. 13.
Bevin has said he will call a special legislative session later this year to consider pension reforms. While the governor has not specified changes he will seek, a consulting firm working with his administration recently made many recommendations for the state to help gain control over its multibillion-dollar pension debt.
Among those recommendations are some that advocates for retirees and employees say violate the so-called “inviolable contract” within state law that assures benefits granted an employee at the time of his or her employment will not be diminished.
Carroll said after the meeting that past retirement system boards, and similar boards in other states, have taken such positions advocating rights of their members.
“We either have contract rights or we don’t. This board either has a duty to enforce those rights, or it doesn’t,” Carroll said. “If it has taken a position that it doesn’t have that duty, I would like for them to transparently explain why they don’t believe they have that duty.”
Reporter Tom Loftus can be reached at (502) 875-5136 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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