By Jack Brammer
FRANKFORT – A bill to stabilize Lexington’s police and fire pension system took another big step forward Wednesday in Kentucky’s General Assembly.
The Senate State and Local Government Committee approved House Bill 430 at the urging of Lexington Mayor Jim Gray.
Gray told the panel that the bill “will save” Lexington’s pension system for police and firefighters.
The measure, sponsored by Rep. Ruth Ann Palumbo, D-Lexington, would reduce the police and fire pension plan’s $296 million unfunded liability by almost half, to $160 million.
If the legislature approves the deal, the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government would commit $20 million a year – up from the current $11 million – to more aggressively pay off the pensions’ unfunded liability over the next 30 years.
Police officers and firefighters likewise would pay more of their salaries into the pension fund. Retirement benefits would be trimmed in several ways, including smaller cost-of-living adjustments for some retirees, smaller base pensions for disability retirements and a reduced payout formula for new hires. Future employees would be expected to work longer before they retired.
Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, voted for the bill in committee but said he personally opposes a defined-benefit pension plan.
He also said a member of Lexington’s legislative delegation next year should present to the legislature a bill that would relieve the General Assembly from having to vote on Lexington pension measures.
“I’m a big believer in home rule,” Thayer said.
Speaking against the bill was John Roberts, a retired Lexington police employee and a member of the police and firefighters retirement fund. He claimed retirees “were not at the table” when the pension deal was struck and expressed concerns about the cost of living adjustments in the deal.
Eight members of the committee voted for the bill. Sen. Albert Robinson, R-London did not vote.
The bill now goes to the full Senate for consideration.
The Senate State and Local Government Committee also unanimously approved HB 51, sponsored by Rep. John Will Stacy, D-West Liberty, that requires any charity that raises more than $25,000 for a disaster in the state to provide quarterly financial reports to the Secretary of State and to report contributions received in excess of $25,000 since Jan. 1, 2012.
“This will bring to light who is raising money and how they are spending it,” said Stacy, whose hometown was devastated by last year’s tornadoes.