Regional university presidents endorse Bevin’s pension plan

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Regional university presidents in Kentucky have endorsed a pension proposal drafted by Gov. Matt Bevin’s administration, giving the plan a boost one day after an advocacy group criticized it.

The endorsement on Thursday comes as the Republican governor tries to build support for his draft legislation ahead of a special legislative session that he’s expected to call soon.

The goal is to give relief to regional universities and many agencies facing surging pension costs. Bevin’s proposal is being presented as an alternative to a pension bill he vetoed recently.

Top lawmakers have said it’s up to Bevin to craft the new bill and line up support. The governor is seeking re-election this year.

The university leaders urged lawmakers to support Bevin’s plan.

“It has been our intention from the beginning to advocate for legislation that includes meaningful reforms and freezes each institution’s employer contribution rate until reforms are enacted,” they said in a letter dated Thursday and addressed to lawmakers.

“Governor Bevin’s legislation provides meaningful reform while preserving institutional choice,” it added. “It ensures each institution’s board of regents is empowered to make a responsible choice that is best for their respective institution and our employees.”

The letter was signed by the presidents of Western Kentucky University, Eastern Kentucky University, Murray State University, Morehead State University and Northern Kentucky University.

Also signing it were the presidents of the Council on Postsecondary Education and the Kentucky Community and Technical College System.

The letter was released by the governor’s office late Thursday.

The university leaders said in the letter that a failure to provide the pension relief would result in “disastrous consequences for our students and employees.”

Bevin’s administration has been crafting the measure aimed at giving regional universities, county health departments, rape crisis centers and many other quasi-governmental agencies relief from a looming spike in pension costs on July 1.

The endorsement from university leaders comes a day after some resistance started emerging to the governor’s plan. The advocacy group Kentucky Government Retirees said Wednesday that the proposal is “bad funding policy” that should be rejected by lawmakers.

“The new pension bill increases overall costs, compels the nation’s worst-funded state pension plan to serve as a creditor, and encourages employers to force employees out of the state retirement plan,” the group said in a statement.

Members of Bevin’s team had closed-door meetings with lawmakers at the state Capitol to provide details about his proposed alternative to the pension bill he vetoed recently.

The draft bill has been portrayed by one top Republican lawmaker as having similarities to the vetoed measure and some differences.

Like before, the agencies will have the option of either staying in the system, buying their way out of the system with a lump sum payment, or paying off their debt in installments over 30 years. But this version of the bill bases any payments on how the agencies decide to handle employees hired before 2013.