Kentucky lawmakers meet behind closed door to discuss controversial pension proposals

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WDRB) – Kentucky lawmakers met Tuesday in secret to discuss controversial recommendations to solve the public pension crisis.

There was no media allowed as members of the House gathered for their closed-door meeting with the state budget director and consultants from the PFM Group. But minutes after the meeting began, Rep. Jim Wayne (D-Louisville) walked out in protest.

“The taxpayers have paid for this consultant to be here and for the study, and the taxpayers are paying for the members to be here.," Wayne said. "This should be a public meeting."

House Speaker Jeff Hoover said the session was an informational caucus meeting and not subject to the open meetings law. He said he wanted members to freely question the consultant’s recommendations, which include cutting some benefits, freezing others and massive changes to the retirement system.

“I thought it would be better for the membership to be able to do that in a private meeting without the opportunity for folks to grandstand politically,” Hoover said.

The meeting lasted for nearly two hours. Afterward, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle admitted that pension reform will be a tough sell.

Some believe pension reform will not work without tax reform.

“There's frustration that we're not looking at tax reform with the same kind of fervor,” said Rep. Reginald Meeks (D-Louisville.)

But Rep. Jason Nemes (R-Louisville) said the legislature has no choice but to tackle the problem.

“I think that everybody in the House and the Senate understands the difficulty of this problem and how important it is to address it,” he said.

Hoover said lawmakers will work over the next few weeks to find common ground.

“Obviously, there are a lot of things in those recommendations that we just will not do and cannot do,” he said.

But for something to get done, Hoover said everyone should turn down rhetoric. He pointed to Gov. Matt Bevin’s comments during a Facebook live session Monday about teachers who may retire because of concerns about possible changes in the pension system.

“If you happen to be a teacher who would walk out on your classroom in order to serve what's in your own personal best interest, at the expense of your children. You probably should retire,” Bevin said.

“Honestly, I was disappointed in the governor's remarks,” said Hoover, whose wife is a teacher.

Bevin declined to speak with reporters after an event in the state Capitol. The governor has said he will call a special session of the state legislature to address the state's pension system, which is facing a shortfall of at least $33 billion.

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