KENTUCKY NEWS: NOV. 10 – 12, 2015
Kentucky Emergency Management preps for winter weather
Most of us don’t think about winter weather until we hear a forecast for snow and ice.
State Emergency Management Officials don’t have that luxury.
They participated in a regional virtual four-hour winter storm training exercise sponsored by FEMA last Thursday at the Kentucky Emergency Management’s Emergency Operations Center located at Frankfort’s Boone National Guard Center.
Lawrence Co. EMS director Michael Woods said his department did not participate but had some advice for local citizens.
“…We weren’t part of the exercise as it was mainly a state and regional drill,” Woods said. “The main thing that I would add would be for county residents to take time now while the weather is good to prepare for such events. Make winter preparations to your home and if financially possible everyone should have an emergency supply kit that will sustain the family or individual for at least three days. As soon as possible I’d like to start sending you some stuff on winter preparedness for you to share and hopefully help get everyone prepared for the coming winter. Thanks again for checking on this
Just last winter, Kentucky experienced winter weather extremes in February that caused residents in 20 counties to lose access to water because numerous water system lines froze and burst in subzero temperatures.
Kentucky Emergency Management found itself serving as a supply chain for delivering a half a million gallons of water to families who otherwise would have been without.
As Michael E. Dossett, Director of Kentucky Emergency Management, pointed out, they don’t have time to figure out how to do something once disaster has already hit. Part of emergency management is being prepared to handle any emergency resulting from a variety of disasters that can occur during winter storm season. Sometimes, those disasters can still be unexpected. One example is the power outage that occurred in 2009 in areas of Kentucky because of ice storms. Some parts of the state were without any sort of power for as long as five weeks. There were 26 deaths attributed to the bad weather and lack of power.
There have been 16 weather and flooding disaster declared events in Kentucky during the past eight years placing us in the top 20 percent of states nationwide to receive FEMA assistance. Five of those have occurred in just the past 18 months, Dossett said. (MORE)
By Gayle Deaton
The State Journal
Study group mulls teacher pensions
The deadline for Gov. Steve Beshear’s “Teachers’ Retirement Work Group” to present recommendations for the underfunded Kentucky teacher pension and insurance program is less than three weeks away. But don’t expect the group to present a single path forward, as much as Sen. Joe Bowen would like to see that happen.
Bowen, an Owensboro Republican on the panel, said Tuesday the more likely scenario come deadline day on Dec. 1 is more than one option for the General Assembly to consider.
“We have two meetings left, on Nov. 16 and Dec. 1,” Bowen said. “Obviously we have discussed different strategies. … My assumption is, we are probably coming up with different options. I don’t know how we will proceed. We (Bowen and some others on the panel, including a representative of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce), have advocated for the (single) best route, but I don’t know if that will ultimately happen. My hunch is, we will provide several options.”
The 23-member panel, appointed in July by Beshear, has concentrated on two areas, Bowen said: How to make the annual “actuarially required contribution (ARC)” into the retirement system, and what structural changes should be made in the system for new hires while protecting binding commitments to current and retired teachers.
Bowen is one of three members of the Senate serving on the group. Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer, a Georgetown Republican, and Sen. Morgan McGarvey, a Louisville Democrat, will also represent the Senate on the special group charged by Beshear to look at solutions to the financial problems plaguing the Kentucky Teachers Retirement System.
At the time of his appointment, Bowen called for identifying a clear path forward to putting the KTRS on solid financial footing, with the key ingredients being adequate funding and necessary structural changes.
Beshear asked the group to finish its work and submit its report to him on or before Dec. 1.
Meanwhile, Kentucky’s governor-elect, Matt Bevin, has also advanced ideas on how to solve the teacher retirement system problem. In a Nov. 2 letter to educators, he said he was devoted to saving the system, and the state has a moral and legal obligation to fulfill its pension promises to current employees and retirees.
“I have been firm in my position that all public pensions, including KTRS, must be fully funded,” Bevin wrote.
Bevin proposed “moving away from the current plan structures and enrolling all new hires into a defined contribution plan.” But he said such a move would not affect the benefits of current teachers or retirees.
“I have also proposed that we change the law to allow teachers to participate in Social Security,” Bevin wrote. “This will give current and future teachers a new source of income when they retire. We must ensure that all future teachers be allowed to participate in Social Security prior to moving from existing plans.”
Bowen said he did not believe the work group would present an option to change from defined benefit pension plans to a defined contribution plan, but some on the panel, including a representative of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, are pushing for it, he said.
Earlier this year, the Senate removed language in a House bill calling for $3.3 billion in bonds to prop up the KTRS. Instead, the Senate proposed that a task force study teacher pensions this year and then report back to the legislature on possible funding solutions. The bill died in a conference committee.
According to a Lexington Herald-Leader report, KTRS has only about 53 percent of the assets it’s expected to need for future payments to 141,000 current and former teachers and state education employees. KTRS officials said the state stopped making its full recommended contributions to the plan in 2008, leading to annual shortfalls of several hundred million dollars.
House Bill 4, sponsored by House Speaker Greg Stumbo, would have authorized $3.3 billion in bonded debt so the state could afford to make its full recommended contribution to KTRS for eight consecutive years. But that bill failed amid criticism that it was too risky and amounted to borrowing to pay debt.
But switching from a defined benefit plan to a defined contribution plan similar to 401(k) plans, even for new hires, isn’t likely either, Bowen said, because teachers don’t get Social Security. But he said new teachers will probably have to work longer than the current 27 years to receive full retirement benefits. Currently, teachers qualify for full retirement after 27 years in the classroom.
The KTRS is now calling for an additional appropriation from the state of about $500 million a year for 30 years to fully stabilize the retirement fund, on top of the annual $550 million in contributions it is making to the pension fund now, Bowen said. Including funds for health care insurance, the state paid $722 million into KTRS in 2014 in the form of employer contributions, with teachers paying in $440 million through paycheck withholding.
“What can we do?” Bowen asked. “Obviously, appropriate more money and make what changes we can to current employees, which isn’t much, and make structural changes for new hires.”
Phasing in additional appropriations, or borrowing money and fully funding the system now, are options, Bowen said.
“It’s going to be a healthy debate in 2016,” he said.
By Steve Vied