House Speaker David Osborne GLI.jpg

House Speaker David Osborne speaks during a luncheon hosted by Greater Louisville Inc. on Feb. 4, 2019.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- There will no swift resolution to the pension funding problem as lawmakers return to Frankfort this week for the remainder of the 2019 legislative session, House Speaker David Osborne told members of Greater Louisville Inc. during a Monday luncheon.

Osborne warned that the General Assembly faces a difficult road toward passing a pension reform measure during this year’s 30-day session, which resumes Tuesday.

That news may be disappointing to some – such as Greater Louisville Inc., the metro chamber of commerce, which made pension reform one of its top legislative priorities for this year’s session – and equally welcome to others – such as groups like the Kentucky Education Association, which drew thousands of red-clad teachers to the Capitol in protest against altering retirement benefits for educators.

“This continues to be, from both a policy and a political standpoint, the most divisive and the most controversial issue that we have dealt with in modern history in Frankfort,” said Osborne, R-Prospect. “It is unbelievable the divisiveness that has consumed even within parties, even within caucuses.”

Kentucky owes an estimated $43 billion in pension debt and has one of, if not the, worst-funded public retirement systems in the country.

The state Supreme Court overturned last year’s pension reform bill, of which the biggest changes would have affected benefits for future teachers, on procedural grounds in a Dec. 13 decision. Days later, Gov. Matt Bevin called lawmakers back to Frankfort in special session to try and pass another pension bill.

Legislators, however, couldn’t agree on a path forward and closed the special session two days later.

Lawmakers have yet to file legislation regarding pension reform with 26 legislative work days remaining this session, but Osborne said he is neither more nor less confident “that something will pass” this year.

“It has always been and will be an incredibly difficult thing to bring consensus on, and we are committed to finding a solution,” Osborne told reporters before addressing GLI. “But we will find a solution that will come together when it comes together. We’re not going to rush it.”

“We will absolutely find a solution that will meet the policy test as well as the political and legal tests that it’s likely to face,” he added.

The fact that nearly a third of the House Republican supermajority, and about half of the House in all, was elected within the past two years further compounds the difficulty in passing a pension reform bill, he said.

“While they’re new to the House, they’re also certainly new to the many complexities that are involved in the pension system,” Osborne said in his remarks to GLI.

For GLI President Kent Oyler, efforts to resolve Kentucky’s pension woes will be worth the wait.

“This problem’s not going away,” he said.

“Every day that you don’t solve the problem, the hole gets a little bit deeper,” Olyer told WDRB News. “We are encouraged by the words of the speaker that they’re working hard on it. We know that the administration’s working hard on it because we’re involved with them, and we hope that something can get passed that actually has a meaningful impact on stopping the hole-digging right now.”

Osborne also touched on education policies that he hopes to see become laws this session, such as legislation aimed at improving school safety in light of last year’s fatal shooting at Marshall County High School and giving Jefferson County Public Schools Superintendent Marty Pollio “every tool” he needs for Kentucky’s largest public school district.

But Osborne failed to mention one of GLI’s legislative priorities in the field: passing school-choice measures like scholarship tax credits and charter school funding.

Oyler said that piece of GLI’s legislative agenda isn’t as high a priority as other issues it wants the legislature to address this year.

“Compared to pensions or some of the other issues that are on the table today, in a short session, it’s not our highest priority,” he said.

Lawmakers might still take up such measures, although Osborne said there have been no discussions on school-choice bills like charter school funding, which is also on the Kentucky Department of Education’s legislative agenda. The only bills filed on charter schools, for instance, have been sponsored by Democrats in the House hoping to repeal the law that passed in 2017.

Asked if the lack of dialogue on those topics meant they wouldn’t be addressed in this year’s short session, Osborne responded: “I didn’t say that. I just said that there’s no discussion on it right now.”

Reach reporter Kevin Wheatley at 502-585-0838 and kwheatley@wdrb.com. Follow him on Twitter @KevinWheatleyKY.

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