Kentucky's Republican governor acknowledged for the first time Monday that he might not call a special session of the state legislature to overhaul one of the country's worst-funded public pension systems.
Matt Bevin has said repeatedly he would call the legislature back before the end of the year to vote on his proposal. But his plan has garnered significant opposition from state workers, with a handful of public school boards voting to give teachers the day off to travel to the Capitol to protest should Bevin call a special session.
Weeks of withering protests seems to have weakened the plans support among House Republicans, who have been in power for less than a year after nearly a century of Democratic rule in Kentucky. Last week, 47 of the 64 members of the House Republican Caucus wrote Bevin a letter asking him not to call a special session this year. Lawmakers are scheduled to return to Frankfort for a regular session on Jan. 2.
"There is nothing magical about getting it done on a particular date or a particular month or whether it is a special session or not," Bevin told reporters following an event at the state Capitol. "Is it still possible? Yes. Will it happen? We'll see."
That's a change from Bevin's previous comments. Last month, Bevin told WHAS radio host Terry Meiners: "I believe in you say what you're going to do and then you're going to do it. I am going to call a special session. I said I will do it this year. It will happen this year. This year is 2017."
Bevin said part of the reason the special session might not happen is the sexual harassment scandal in the House Republican Caucus. Former House Speaker Jeff Hoover resigned his leadership post last month after acknowledging he paid to settle a sexual harassment claim made by a woman in his office. Three other Republican lawmakers were involved in the settlement and have lost their committee chairmanships.
"All the shenanigans going on in the House have not helped the cause at all, they really haven't, and that is a reality that has to be dealt with," Bevin said.
One reason Bevin had hoped for a special session is because lawmakers will be busy starting in January writing the state's two-year operating budget. It will be the first time Republicans will have complete control of how Kentucky spends the public's money, and it is likely to consume most of lawmakers' attention.
Kentucky is at least $41 billion short of the money it needs to pay retirement benefits over the next 30 years, according to official estimates approved by the boards of trustees for the state's various retirement plans. Other estimates are double that amount.
The deficit is a combination of consistent underfunding by the state legislature, massive losses from the Great Recession and a growing lifespan of retirees along with a shrinking state workforce.
Bevin's plan would eventually close the pension system, which guarantees a set monthly check for retirees until they die. He wants to replace it with a 401(k)-style plan where state workers and taxpayers would contribute to an account that workers would live off of once they retire.
An analysis of Bevin's proposal by Cavanaugh Macdonald Consulting said it would cost taxpayers an extra $4.4 billion over the next 20 years just in the retirement system that covers public school teachers. Bevin has not released a similar analysis for retirement plans that cover state and local government workers.