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New Kentucky Pension Bill Surfaces, Would Affect Future Teachers

J. Tyler Franklin

  On the last day that Kentucky lawmakers could file bills, a freshman Republican filed a bill to move future Kentucky teachers into a new pension system.

The legislation is the latest attempt to address the low funding levels of Kentucky’s retirement systems for public workers by altering benefits.

Rep. Scott Lewis, a Republican from Hartford and sponsor of the bill, says the new proposal would still provide teachers with “defined benefit” pensions that guarantee monthly payments upon retirement, but it wouldn’t be as generous as what current teachers get.

“You know it’s not quite as good as the plan we have right now, but it certainly is close,” Lewis said.

Lewis is the former superintendent of Ohio County Public Schools and was first elected to the legislature last year.

Unlike the pension bill that passed out of the legislature last year and was ultimately struck down by the Kentucky Supreme Court, Lewis’ proposal would only affect teachers — not other state workers.

Also unlike the old pension bill, the new proposal would not move future teachers into 401k-type retirement plans that depend on stock market growth. Instead, teachers would be enrolled in two separated defined benefit plans that teachers and their employers would pay in to.

Thousands of teachers and other state workers staged massive protests in Frankfort over the pension issue in Frankfort last year.

Similar to the old pension proposal, the new one would not do much to address the state’s $41 billion unfunded pension liability.

Lewis estimated that the bill would save the state about $335 million over the next 20 years — about 8 percent of the forecasted shortfall.

“It probably won’t help too much on the unfunded liability other than it’s saving money going forward,” Lewis said.

The proposal comes after the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled that lawmakers had violated the state constitution by rushing last year’s pension bill to passage.

Gov. Matt Bevin called a special legislative session in late December for lawmakers to pass a new version of the bill, but they quickly voted to end the session before passing anything.

Republican House Speaker David Osborne said he hadn’t reviewed Lewis’ proposal yet, but hoped that a pension bill would pass before the end of this year’s legislative session on March 29.

“It is a very difficult process and not one that can happen quickly but hopefully we can still do it,” Osborne said.

Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives for Kentucky Public Radio, a group of public radio stations including WKMS, WFPL in Louisville, WEKU in Richmond and WKYU in Bowling Green. A native of Lexington, Ryland most recently served as the Capitol Reporter for Kentucky Public Radio. He has covered politics and state government for NPR member stations KWBU in Waco and KUT in Austin.
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