Looking to break the gridlock on his pension-relief proposal, Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin has reached out to lawmakers with several changes he's agreed to make in hopes of winning enough support to have the measure taken up in a special legislative session.
The proposal aims to provide relief for some state-funded agencies struggling with surging pension payments. Bevin has spent weeks trying to build support for his plan, which would replace a measure he vetoed in April after lawmakers ended this year's regular session.
"I ask every single member of the General Assembly to support this legislation so that we can prevent the completely avoidable loss of services, loss of jobs and loss of funding for our pension system," Bevin said in a letter dated Wednesday that was sent to lawmakers.
"I am confident we can step up and solve this problem," he added.
Unless action is taken, regional universities as well as county health departments, rape crisis centers and many other quasi-governmental agencies face ballooning pension costs on July 1. State leaders worry that inaction would strain the quasi-public agencies and lead to some bankruptcies, elimination of staff and loss of critical services for Kentuckians.
His proposal allows the agencies to stay with the Kentucky Retirement Systems at full cost; leave the retirement system by paying a lump sum equal to future projected benefits payments; or buy their way out in installment payments over 30 years. It extends a freeze on pension costs for another year for the regional universities and quasi-public agencies.
The Republican governor's letter outlined four changes he's agreed to make in an effort to garner enough support in the GOP-dominated legislature to ensure his proposal would pass in a special session he wants to call this month.
"We've got a good bill," the governor told reporters Wednesday. "We've made some accommodations. ... They're really not significant things. But they were things specifically asked for by people in the House and the Senate."
One key change would push back the deadline for the agencies to decide to next April 30, after the conclusion of next year's legislative session. That would give lawmakers time to make changes to deal with any issues that might come up, the governor wrote.
Bevin didn't indicate when he might reconvene lawmakers to deal with the issue.
"My date is as soon as the House and Senate tell me they have the votes, I'm willing to call it," he told reporters. "But they have to be willing to do the job. There's no point in bringing people back if they're not willing to do what needs to be done."
House Speaker Pro Tem David Meade said Wednesday that he thinks the governor's bill is close to having the votes needed to pass but didn't offer a specific vote count.
"I don't know that we've got the votes," he told reporters. "I'm just saying that if he makes the call, we're ready to do the work. That's our job."
Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer indicated pressure could mount on undecided lawmakers later in June if they haven't yet been called back to the state Capitol.
"What might get them on board is a week from July 1 and some of their quasi-governmental agencies call them and say, 'We're going to have to have mass layoffs or potentially shut down unless you go in and vote for this bill,'" he said Wednesday.
Bevin is wrangling with the pension issue as he seeks reelection this year. The governor is being challenged by his political nemesis, Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear, in the November election.