- Associated Press - Friday, February 2, 2018

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - After weeks of behind-the-scenes work, Republican leaders in Kentucky sounded upbeat Friday about the prospects of overhauling one of the country’s worst-funded state pension systems.

They signaled that a long-anticipated pension bill for government employees and public school teachers could be forthcoming soon.

Gov. Matt Bevin predicted that “thousands of hours” of work in the past year on a pension overhaul will produce a measure that puts public pension systems on more solid financial ground.

“I am very confident that what we get will be a good bill, and that will help us to move forward with confidence that the checks that retirees expect will actually come,” Bevin told reporters following an event at the state Capitol. “That’s the key.”

Acting House Speaker David Osborne said a bill could be filed as soon as early next week. He said he expects lawmakers will tackle the issue before the session ends in April.

“We want to do it as quickly as we possibly can, but at the same time we’re not going to rush it without complete information,” Osborne, a Prospect Republican, told reporters.

Neither Bevin nor Osborne provided specific details about the pending bill.

Frustration has mounted among some as lawmakers have awaited actuarial reviews on how much the pension proposals would cost taxpayers. This year’s legislative session is more than a third over, and lawmakers also face the tough task of crafting a new two-year state budget.

Pointing to the complexities of the pension issue, Osborne said that “the last couple of times we’ve gotten information back, it’s created more questions.”

Bevin said Friday that he hopes lawmakers will focus on the pension issue.

“In a town like this, and at a time like this, there’s always the ability to be distracted if we allow ourselves to be,” he said. “I’m confident that our legislature is capable of better than that.”

Bevin wanted to convene a special legislative session last year to vote on a proposed pension overhaul, but his plan drew significant opposition from public employees.

State employees are owed billions of dollars in benefits over the next 30 years, but the government is at least $41 billion short, according to official estimates.

The plan proposed by Bevin and other GOP leaders last October would have eventually closed the pension system and replaced it with a 401(k)-style plan while capping benefits for current employees at 27 years of service and imposing a 3 percent pay cut.

Then there was talk of trying to push through a pension bill early this year.

But in the opening days of this year’s legislative session, the GOP-led House was embroiled in questions about who would be in charge as the chamber’s speaker.

Jeff Hoover eventually stepped down as speaker amid an investigation of a sexual harassment settlement he and three other Republican lawmakers signed last year. Hoover denies he engaged in sexual harassment, but acknowledges he sent inappropriate but consensual text messages to a woman who once worked for the House Republican caucus.

As he has throughout his term as governor, Bevin on Friday painted a bleak outlook for the pension systems without an overhaul.

“The money will run out,” he said. “The checks will stop. That’s not acceptable. That’s why I’m confident that it will get done. And I’m also confident that it will be good. Because our legislature understands what’s at stake.”

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