Kentucky Democrats' pension fix plans seek bipartisanship

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Democratic leaders in the Kentucky House are making a play for bipartisanship with new state pension repair proposals.

House Minority Leader Rocky Adkins said Thursday that Democrats are acting "in good faith" with two proposals to try "to work a way forward."

Adkins says leaders in the Republican-led House, including Speaker David Osborne, have met with Democrats to discuss the proposals. He says no commitments have been made. Republicans hold a supermajority in both the House and Senate, meaning they don't need Democratic votes.

But Kentucky Republican Gov. Matt Bevin has struggled to cobble together support for his pension repair proposal that would replace a Republican-approved bill that Bevin vetoed in April. Bevin has yet to call a special session to put forth his plan.

"We have reached out across the aisle to our Republican counterparts and to the governor to share our ideas, and we have communicated with the stakeholders as well," Adkins said. "We believe these plans provide the certainty and stability the agencies absolutely must have."

Both bills put forth by Democrats would freeze retirement payments that are paid by quasi-governmental agencies and redirect excess retiree health insurance payments for five years to pension liabilities. Democrats say that would be paid back after the five years by higher annual payments to the retiree health insurance fund.

Bryan Sunderland, Bevin's legislative director, listened in to a news conference Thursday with Adkins and other Democrats. Sunderland said in a release Thursday afternoon that the office is reviewing the proposals but they have concerns about the two bills. Sunderland says the plans allow more underfunding of the pension system but Bevin's office would "look seriously at the information provided just today."

Regional universities as well as county health departments, rape crisis centers and many other quasi-governmental agencies will be hit with ballooning pension costs if a fix isn't put in place. Bevin's administration and lawmakers are trying to head off those increases, worried the surging pension obligations could jeopardize some crucial services for Kentuckians.

Adkins said Bevin could call a special session later this month.