By John Cheves
FRANKFORT — Kentucky lawmakers will be asked for $2.3 billion in public pension contributions this winter as they prepare the state’s next two-year budget, potentially diverting more than 10 percent of the budget for the retirement benefits of state workers and school teachers.
The chief pension fund that covers more than 90,600 current and former state workers has $2.6 billion in assets and $11.3 billion in assumed liabilities, making it only 23 percent funded, actuarial advisers told the Kentucky Retirement Systems’ board of trustees on Thursday.
That funding level has dropped for years, from 52 percent in 2008 to 27 percent last year. It puts Kentucky at or near the bottom in most state pension rankings.
Pension experts say a funding level of less than 80 percent is problematic because a cash-starved benefits system can’t make lucrative long-term investments, and it eventually can’t keep mailing out monthly checks without draining money from other public services, such as schools and roads.
The General Assembly has made attempts at “pension reform” — including Senate Bill 2 earlier this year, which reduced benefits for future state workers — but it’s extremely difficult to climb out of the hole dug by two decades of underfunding by governors and lawmakers, pension officials said.
By Sam Youngman
LOUISVILLE — Hal Heiner and his wife Sheila call their stately home and the 170 acres surrounding it Dovelyn, a reference to its large dove population and the peace he says those birds bring them.
Heiner’s peaceful days are probably about to end.
With about a year and half to go until the primary elections for Kentucky governor in May 2015, Heiner is nearing an announcement that he will run, looking to make it official early in the new year.
“I’m a firm believer in marathon campaigns where people get to know the actual candidates and don’t have to rely on a 30-second TV spot produced by some group out of Washington, DC to decide who to vote for,” said Heiner, a Republican.
In a wide-ranging interview with the Lexington Herald-Leader on a wooded bluff just a short ATV trek from his house, Heiner said it will take “most of 2014 and 2015″ for Kentuckians to get to know him.
A multimillionaire and former Louisville metro councilman, Heiner said he plans to spend some of his own money at the beginning of his campaign to offset his lack of name identification outside of Louisville and Kentucky’s “strict” campaign finance laws.
Heiner, a soft-spoken man clad in jeans, a flannel shirt and barn coat, said he thinks early jockeying for the Republican nomination will die down over the next year. That behind-the-scenes maneuvering exploded into public view after likely gubernatorial candidate James Comer, the state’s agriculture commissioner, declared his independence from GOP “party bosses” during an October speech.
HERALD-LEADER FRANKFORT BUREAU
FRANKFORT – Franklin Circuit Court ordered National College Wednesday to pay a $1,000-a-day fine from July 1 to the present for failing to respond to a subpoena from Attorney General Jack Conway in his investigation of some for-profit colleges.
As of Wednesday, that amounts to $126,000 in fines.
In addition to the penalty, the court ordered National’s attorneys to pay $10,000 to the attorney general’s office after the court determined that National College has “repeatedly abused the legal system to obstruct a valid investigation by the attorney general.”
National College had no immediate comment.
Conway said he hopes National College “will stop the games, turn over all of the documents requested and pay.
“If National has nothing to hide, the time is now to comply with the court order.”
The attorney general issued a subpoena to National College in December 2010.
National refused to respond to the subpoena and filed suit to block the attorney general’s investigation.
In March 2011, the Franklin Circuit Court ruled in Conway’s favor, finding that the subpoena was reasonable and supported by valid concerns under the Consumer Protection Act and that Conway was lawfully acting in the public interest.
National College appealed that decision to both the Court of Appeals and the Kentucky Supreme Court, but the appeals were denied.
In a separate action in September, 2011, Conway filed suit against National College in Fayette Circuit Court, alleging that National violated the Kentucky Consumer Protection Act by posting false job placement rates for National graduates on its website.
That litigation is pending.
By Jack Brammer
FRANKFORT – Democrat Reginald Thomas leads his two opponents in campaign funds for next Tuesday’s special election in Lexington to succeed Kathy Stein in the state Senate.
Campaign finance reports filed this week with the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance show Thomas, an attorney and Kentucky State University professor, has received $122,401 for the election so far and has $67,999 on hand.
Independent Richard Moloney, a former Lexington council member and city official, has raised $74,430 and has a balance of $31,777.
Campaign receipts for Republican Michael Johnson, a minister, totaled $6,233, with $5,342 on hand.
Joining host Ferrell Wellman on this weekend’s “Comment on Kentucky,” a public-affairs show of the Kentucky Educational Television network, will be three journalists.
They are Ronnie Ellis, Frankfort reporter and columnist for CNHI, Inc.; Mike Wynn, Frankfort bureau reporter for The Courier-Journal; and Jack Brammer, Frankfort bureau chief for the Lexington Herald-Leader.
The show will first air at 8 p.m. Friday on KET. It is to be taped Tuesday.
The Monday, Dec. 2, edition of “Kentucky Tonight” will be preempted by winter funding pledge.
Editorial writers will join host Ferrell Wellman on this weekend’s “Comment on Kentucky,” a public affairs show of the Kentucky Educational Television network.
They are Jamie Lucke, editorial page writer for the Lexington Herald-Leader; Mark Maynard, editor of The Independent in Ashland; and Don Wilkins, opinion page editor for the Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer
The show will air live at 8 p.m. Friday on KET 1.
On the Monday, Nov. 25 edition of “Kentucky Tonight” at 8 p.m. on KET and at KET.org/live, host Bill Goodman and guests will discuss the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
Scheduled guests are:
- Enid Trucios-Haynes, president of the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky
- Martin Cothran, senior policy analyst for The Family Foundation of Kentucky
- Chris Hartman, director of the Fairness Campaign
- Richard Nelson, executive director of the Commonwealth Policy Center
Viewers with questions and comments may send e-mail to email@example.com or use the message form at KET.org/kytonight. Viewers may also submit questions and comments on Twitter to @BillKET or on KET’s Facebook page. All messages should include first and last name and town or county. The phone number for viewer calls during the program is 1-800-494-7605.
“Kentucky Tonight” programs are archived online, made available via podcast, and rebroadcast on KET and KET KY. Archived programs, information about podcasts, and broadcast schedules are available at KET.org/kytonight.
“Kentucky Tonight” is a weekly KET production, produced by Deidre Clark. Goodman is host and managing editor.
By Sam Youngman
Herald-Leader Political Writer
It was one of those full-body laughs where the person rears their head back.
U.S. Sen. Rand Paul had just stood next to Agriculture Commissioner James Comer in Louisville and praised Comer for returning $1.65 million to taxpayers when the Lexington Herald-Leader asked the senator what lessons he had learned from weeks of media scrutiny and criticism over multiple accounts of plagiarism.
“Not everybody likes me,” Paul said, cracking up.
He was in a great mood, back on friendly soil with one of his top allies in the state.
Looking ahead to 2015, it’s becoming increasingly clear that Paul and Comer will unite to make a powerful duo as one man runs for the White House and the other vies to move into the governor’s mansion in Frankfort.
The two men, both underestimated by their opponents at almost every turn, have each others’ backs. While both are at least a year away from making any formal announcements, they are making moves behind the scenes that will make them more powerful when they do.
Plans are underway to base Paul’s presidential run in Louisville, where on Friday night Republicans from all over the state gathered for a Paul fundraiser. Comer introduced the senator, and Jesse Benton, a longtime Paul operative and campaign manager to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, announced to the crowd that both McConnell and his wife, former Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, were maxing out donations to Paul, including a check from McConnell’s PAC.
LOUISVILLE — Agriculture Commissioner James Comer is a popular guy these days.
A proud Republican and likely gubernatorial candidate in 2015, Comer bookended his week with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell singing his praises on Monday and Sen. Rand Paul adding a verse to that song on Friday.
It could have gone the other way.
It was less than two weeks ago that Comer told a Somerset crowd that he “cannot be controlled,” warning unnamed party bosses about interfering in the governor’s race or trying to jump-start it early.
Pariah was possible. Popularity appears to be the result.
But if McConnell’s fawning at a Veteran’s Day event, where Comer announced a national drive for his department’s Homegrown by Heroes program, was a surprise, Paul’s kind words on Friday were not.
The commissioner was the only state representative to back Paul in his primary against former Secretary of State and McConnell pick Trey Grayson.
But he’s also winning friends in high places by doing something few politicians do: Giving tax money back to tax payers.
By Jack Brammer
FRANKFORT — Andy Beshear, a son of Gov. Steve Beshear, will run for Kentucky attorney general in 2015.
Beshear filed papers Thursday with the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance for his Democratic candidacy.
“As an attorney, I have worked hard to ensure that my clients receive the justice they seek and deserve in the court of law,” Beshear said. “Today my family and I have decided to take the skills I have learned in fighting for Kentucky communities, businesses both small and large, and community organizations to fighting for all of the people of this great commonwealth.”
Gov. Beshear said he and first lady Jane Beshear “are excited that Andy has decided to run for attorney general and he has our full support.
“We are confident Andy will be an outstanding candidate and a great attorney general,” Steve Beshear said in a statement.
The current attorney general, Democrat Jack Conway of Louisville, cannot seek re-election in 2015 because of term limits.
Other Democrats mentioned as possible candidates for attorney general in 2015 include former state Democratic Party Chairwoman Jennifer Moore and state Rep. John Tilley of Hopkinsville.
Andy Beshear said his campaign’s co-chairs will be Lt. Gov. Jerry Abramson, former Supreme Court Justice James Keller and Campbell Commonwealth’s Attorney Michelle Snodgrass.
Beshear is an attorney with Stites and Harbison in Louisville. He has been recognized as one of the “best lawyers in America,” and as a “rising star” by the publication SuperLawyers, and he was the first Kentucky lawyer to be named a top consumer lawyer by the publication Lawyer Monthly.
Beshear lives in Louisville with his wife, Britainy, and their two young children, Will and Lila.
By Jack Brammer
FRANKFORT –Revenue for the state’s General Fund, which pays for most state programs, dipped slightly in October while receipts for the Road Fund showed a bigger drop.
State budget director Jane Driskell said Tuesday that October’s General Fund receipts fell 0.4 percent compared to October 2012 collections.
Total revenues for the month were $772.5 million, compared to $725.5 million last October.
Receipts have increased 2.4 percent for the first four months of this fiscal year, which began July 1. They need to grow 1.6 percent over the final eight months of fiscal year 2014 to realize the official revenue estimate for the year of $9.52 billion.
Driskell said major revenue accounts continue to perform well, especially the sales and use tax. It increased at a 5.3 percent pace in October and has grown 3 percent through the first four months of this fiscal year.
“Despite the small decline in aggregate General Fund revenues in October, the major accounts performed well and revenues are slightly ahead of pace to meet the budgeted total,” Driskell said.