Skip to Main Content

Quasi-Governmental Pensions

From Frankfort, Renee Shaw and guests discuss the special legislative session in Kentucky on the pension crisis facing quasi-governmental agencies. Scheduled guests: Bryan Sunderland, Legislative Director, Office of the Governor; State Rep. Joni Jenkins; State Rep. Jerry Miller; State Rep. Joe Graviss; State Sen. Chris McDaniel.
Season 26 Episode 28 Length 56:34 Premiere: 07/22/19


Kentucky Tonight

KET’s Kentucky Tonight, hosted by Renee Shaw, brings together an expert panel for in-depth analysis on major issues facing the Commonwealth.

This weekly program features comprehensive discussions with lawmakers, stakeholders and policy leaders that are moderated by award-winning journalist Renee Shaw. Often aired live, viewers are encouraged to participate by submitting questions real-time via email, Twitter or KET’s online form.
For nearly three decades, Kentucky Tonight has been a source for complete and balanced coverage of the most urgent and important public affairs developments in the state of Kentucky.

Viewers with questions and comments may send e-mail to or use the contact form. 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.

After broadcast, Kentucky Tonight programs are available on and via podcast (iTunes or Android). Files are normally accessible within 24 hours after the television broadcast.

Kentucky Tonight was awarded a 1997 regional Emmy by the Ohio Valley Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. The series was also honored with a 1995 regional Emmy nomination.

To purchase a DVD:
Call 1-800-945-9167 or e-mail


KET Mondays • 8/7 pm


Watch on KET’s website anytime or through the PBS Video App.


The Kentucky Tonight podcast features each episode’s audio for listening.

Renee Shaw is Moderator and Director of Public Affairs for Kentucky Educational Television, currently serving as host of KET’s Kentucky Tonight, Connections, election coverage, Legislative Update and KET Forums.

Since joining KET in 1997, Shaw has produced numerous KET public affairs series and specials, including KET’s nationally recognized legislative coverage. Under her leadership, KET has expanded its portfolio of public affairs content to include Kentucky Supreme Court coverage, town hall-style forums, and multi-platform program initiatives around issues such as opioid addiction and youth mental health.  

As an award-winning journalist, Shaw has earned top awards from the Ohio Valley Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, earning two regional Emmy awards, and an award from the Kentucky Associated Press for political coverage of the state legislature. She was inducted into the Kentucky Civil Rights Hall of Fame in 2017. She has been honored by the AKA Beta Gamma Omega Chapter with a Coretta Scott King Spirit of Ivy Award; earned the state media award from the Kentucky Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution in 2019; named a Charles W. Anderson Laureate by the Kentucky Personnel Cabinet in 2019 honoring her significant contributions in addressing socio-economic issues; earned the Anthony Lewis Media Award from the Kentucky Department of Public Advocacy for her work on criminal justice reform in 2014; and, in 2015, received the Green Dot Award for her coverage of domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking.  

In 2018, KET earned a national media award from Mental Health America for its multi-dimensional content on the opioid epidemic shepherded by Shaw. That same year, she co-produced and moderated a six-part series on youth mental health that was awarded first place in educational content by NETA, the National Educational Telecommunications Association. In 2019, Shaw was recognized by The Kentucky Gazette as one of the 50 most notable women in Kentucky politics and government. In addition, Renee was awarded the Charles W. Anderson Laureate Award by the Kentucky Personnel Cabinet which recognizes individuals who have made significant contributions in addressing socio-economic issues.

Host Renee Shaw smiling in a green dress with a KET set behind her.

Debating Pension Relief for Quasi-Government Agencies

By Wednesday, lawmakers meeting in a special session are expected to approve a bill that gives regional universities, local health departments, and other quasi-governmental agencies a one-year freeze on higher pension obligations as well as options for those entities to either stay in or leave the Kentucky Retirement Systems.

But the path to that final passage has not been without controversy. Democrats have questioned the impacts of House Bill 1 and Gov. Matt Bevin’s call for a special session that summoned legislators to Frankfort.

For an update on the pension relief debate, Kentucky Tonight‘s Renee Shaw spoke with Bryan Sunderland, deputy chief of staff and legislative director for the governor; Sen. Chris McDaniel (R-Taylor Mill), chair of the Senate Appropriations and Revenue Committee; House Minority Whip Joni Jenkins (D-Shively); Rep. Jerry Miller (R-Louisville), chair of the House State Government Committee; and Rep. Joe Graviss (D-Versailles), member of the House State Government Committee.

Starting July 1, the state’s regional universities and quasi-governmental agencies like health departments, rape crisis centers, and domestic violence shelters in the Kentucky Retirement Systems saw their pension contribution rate go from about 49 percent of an employee’s salary to about 84 percent. (The higher rate is the result of updated actuarial assumptions about KRS investment returns and payroll growth.)

Many of those entities feared they would be unable to bear those higher costs. One such agency, Seven Counties Services in Louisville, filed for bankruptcy in 2013 to escape higher pension costs. Other quasis have fired their full-time employees and rehired them as contractors without benefits as a way of reducing their pension obligations.

The dire financial prospects led representatives from these agencies to ask lawmakers for relief. In the 2019 regular session, the General Assembly passed House Bill 358, which froze the pension contribution rate at 49 percent for one year, then required the agencies to decide whether they want to stay in KRS and pay the higher rate or exit the system. Those opting to leave KRS had to pay off their pension obligations in one lump sum, or in installments over 30 years.

Bevin vetoed that measure in April after lawmakers had adjourned. He said HB 358 violated the state’s moral and legal obligations to retirees and would have cost the state more money. His veto message included a pledge to call a special session so lawmakers could pass a new relief package.

Governor’s Call Is Questioned
In early May, Gov. Bevin began circulating his plan to help 118 quasis handle their escalating pension costs. Bevin’s Deputy Chief of Staff Bryan Sunderland says the governor’s office held question and answer sessions with lawmakers and stakeholders to build support for the proposal before amending the plan and presenting the final draft of what would become House Bill 1.

“We took feedback and input from everyone who came to us,” says Sunderland. “This bill has been probably one of the more vetted pieces of legislation out there. That doesn’t mean everyone likes it.”

Then last Thursday, Bevin issued his call for a special session, which listed a dozen items that he said must be included in whatever bill is passed. Democrats and pension advocates argued that Bevin’s call was too restrictive.

“It was uncomfortable as a legislator being dictated to by the governor’s office to do our job as an independent branch [of government],” says Rep. Graviss, who sponsored his own pension relief plan.

Sunderland defends Bevin, saying the state constitution gives governors authority to say what’s in a call to special session. He says a focused call results in a better legislative process.

“The more narrow a call that is made, the more notice the public has whether something that may or may not be considered would be important to them,” says Sunderland.

He says lawmakers still have the freedom to enact or reject what Bevin has proposed. Sunderland also points to a call in 2008 by former Gov. Steve Beshear that included the full text of a 179-page bill lawmakers were to consider in that session.

But that particular bill had been crafted by a bipartisan group of legislators, not by the Beshear Administration, says Rep. Jenkins.

“We had a Republican Senate and a Democratic House… they came together, they agreed on a bill and the call did reference that bill, but didn’t say pass this bill,” says Jenkins. “That’s what we generally see in special sessions, is that the agreements are worked out before, they’re worked out in a bipartisan manner, and that what’s we did not see in this session.”

Attorney General Andy Beshear, the Democrat running for governor against Bevin, said last weekend that he may file suit over the issue. He said Bevin exceeded his authority in calling the session with such specific language, which the attorney general contends encroached on the exclusive lawmaking power of the legislature.

‘A Payment Plan’
HB 1 offers the quasis the option to stay in KRS and pay the higher contribution rate, or leave the system and pay off their obligations at once or over 30 years. The agencies covered under the measure have until April 2020 to decide which path is best for them.

“This isn’t pension reform, this is a payment plan, essentially to keep these entities viable,” says Rep. Miller. “They have options and each option comes with a price tag, and the price tag is set to ensure that KRS is made whole. So it’s not easy, it’s not simple, but it’s a well-balanced, well-reasoned approach.”

Whatever option a quasi chooses, they still have to find the funds to pay their pension bills. Miller says he thinks “at least three regional universities, maybe more,” will draw on cash reserves or bonding to make lump-sum payments to exit KRS. As for local health departments, he says most of them can raise revenues by increasing the tax they assess on residents of their service areas. The state also will continue to provide subsidies to these agencies to help them with their pension payments.

“One of the requirements is that those folks will receive the same allocation that they’ve previously received,” says Sen. McDaniel about the subsidies. “None of the other bills actually addressed that, but this one at least ensures that they stay consistent with where they’re at now.”

Graviss says HB 1 puts too much financial pressure on agencies that provide vital services. He calls the legislation illegal, inhumane, and a “path to destruction.”

“What we don’t want to do is put risk on these quasis who are out there protecting life and limb on the frontlines to our must vulnerable citizens,” says Graviss. “We’re trying to increase their costs when they’re out there serving the least of these. That is not what Kentucky is about.”

The Democrat has several other problems with HB 1. He says the state will be on the hook for as much as $377 million in outstanding pension obligations not paid off in 30 years by agencies that leave KRS. Graviss also says agencies won’t have enough time to review financial analyses of how the various options in HB 1 will impact them before they have to make a decision about which one to choose. Finally, he says HB 1 will result in 15 consecutive years of negative cash flow for KRS.

Alternatives Proposed by Democrats
Another provision in HB 1 requires employees of agencies that exit KRS be placed into a 401k-style retirement plan. They will keep any benefits they’ve already accrued under the state’s defined-benefit pension plan, but going forward they will earn less generous benefits through a new defined-contribution plan. Gravis says that change could cost employees as much as $100,000 in retirement benefits over their working careers.

Democrats also contend that change violates the inviolable contract with pension plan enrollees. But McDaniel says court cases and a 2004 ruling by then-Kentucky Attorney General Greg Stumbo, a Democrat, indicate that changes to future benefits don’t violate the pension agreement.

Graviss and fellow Democratic Rep. Angie Hatton of Whitesburg filed their own bills to address some of issues they see with HB 1. Hatton’s House Bill 3 would have simply frozen the pension contribution rate these agencies currently pay.

House Bill 2, sponsored by Graviss, would allow these agencies to stay in KRS and freeze their 49 percent contribution rate for the next 25 years. To offset those lower payments, Graviss proposes slightly higher contribution rates from other state agencies in KRS. He would also shift money from the retiree health insurance fund to the pension plan.

“House Bill 2 is significantly faster, cheaper, legal, more certain, and stable than House Bill 1 by far,” says Graviss. “It pays off the unfunded liability four to five years faster.

“That’s true because it takes the onus off of the quasis and puts it on everybody else,” says Miller. “We are pushing cost off on others.”

Graviss admits his bill would cost about $3 billion over 24 years. But he also contends it’s worth it to put what he says amounts to 0.5 percent of the annual state budget to shoring up these public service agencies and maintaining pension benefits for their employees.

McDaniel applauds the work Graviss put into his bill, but the senator says the money diverted from the health insurance fund over the next few years will eventually have to be replaced by taxpayers.

The House State Government Committee voted down HB 2 and HB 3 along party-line votes on Monday.

Bill Advances to Final Passage
Democrats also offered floor amendments to HB 1 to make the legislation more palatable to their interests. One amendment would have removed all the language from the bill except for the one-year freeze on the pension contribution rate. Another amendment would have removed the non-severability clause that Gov. Bevin requested. That means if any part of the legislation is struck down in court the entire bill will be overturned.

House Speaker David Osborne ruled those amendments were out of order because they failed to address the items outlined in the governor’s call into special session.

“I think that gives some credence to the fact that we were only going to be able to pass [Bevin’s] bill without any changes,” says Jenkins.

HB 1 won narrow approval in the House on a 52-46 vote, with nine Republicans joining Democrats to oppose the legislation. Democrats unsuccessfully argued the measure should require 60 votes for passage since it involves spending state money.

The Senate State and Local Government Committee approved HB 1 Tuesday morning, and the full Senate is expected to vote on the legislation on Wednesday. McDaniel predicts passage of a clean bill.

“I think you’ll have a healthy and robust debate,” says McDaniel, “but at the end of the day, these quasi-governmental agencies need this help.”

Beyond any potential legal challenges to HB 1, Democrats say they will continue to work for solutions to the pension challenges faced by the quasi-governmental agencies.

“I hope that in the next session that we can continue these discussions and that we can talk about ways that we can give those important departments some stability and certainty,” says Jenkins.

Sponsored by:

Season 26 Episodes

Public Education Issues for the 2020 General Assembly

S26 E43 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 12/16/19

Gubernatorial Transition

S26 E42 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 12/09/19

City and County Issues

S26 E41 Length 56:36 Premiere Date 11/25/19

Hemp's Impact

S26 E40 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 11/18/19

Election 2019 Recap

S26 E39 Length 56:35 Premiere Date 11/11/19

Election 2019 Preview

S26 E38 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 11/04/19

Candidates for Governor

S26 E37 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 10/28/19

Lieutenant Governor Candidates

S26 E36 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 10/21/19

Attorney General Candidates

S26 E35 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 10/14/19

Secretary of State

S26 E34 Length 56:35 Premiere Date 10/07/19

Commissioner of Ag; Auditor of Public Accounts; State Treas

S26 E33 Length 1:26:40 Premiere Date 09/30/19

K-12 Public Education

S26 E32 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 09/09/19

Public Assistance and Government Welfare Programs

S26 E31 Length 56:35 Premiere Date 08/26/19

Energy in Kentucky

S26 E30 Length 56:40 Premiere Date 08/12/19

Public Pension Reform

S26 E29 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 07/29/19

Quasi-Governmental Pensions

S26 E28 Length 56:34 Premiere Date 07/22/19


S26 E27 Length 56:34 Premiere Date 07/15/19

Public Education

S26 E24 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 07/16/19

Immigration and Border Security

S26 E23 Length 56:34 Premiere Date 07/08/19

Prospects for Criminal Justice Reform

S26 E22 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 07/01/19

Issues in the 116th Congress

S26 E21 Length 56:37 Premiere Date 06/24/19

Trends Influencing the 2019 General Election

S26 E20 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 06/10/19

Previewing the 2019 Primary Election

S26 E19 Length 56:34 Premiere Date 05/20/19

Democratic Primary Candidates for Governor and Lt. Governor

S26 E18 Length 1:56:41 Premiere Date 05/13/19

Republican Attorney General Candidates, Primary Race 2019

S26 E17 Length 56:34 Premiere Date 04/15/19

Candidates for Secretary of State 2019 Primary

S26 E16 Length 1:26:35 Premiere Date 04/08/19

State Auditor; State Treasurer, Primary Election 2019

S26 E15 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 04/01/19

Commissioner of Agriculture, Primary Election

S26 E14 Length 56:35 Premiere Date 03/25/19

2019 General Assembly

S26 E13 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 03/18/19

Legislation in the 2019 General Assembly

S26 E12 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 03/18/19

Ongoing Debate on Sports Betting

S26 E12 Length 56:34 Premiere Date 02/25/19

Bail Reform

S26 E11 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 02/18/19

Medical Marijuana

S26 E10 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 02/04/19

Recapping the Start of the 2019 General Assembly

S26 E8 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 01/14/19

2019 General Assembly

S26 E7 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 01/07/19

Special Session on Pensions/Education Issues

S26 E6 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 12/17/18

Medicaid in Kentucky

S26 E5 Length 56:34 Premiere Date 12/10/18

Immigration Issues

S26 E4 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 12/03/18

Mass Shootings, Gun Safety, and Concealed Carry Laws

S26 E3 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 11/19/18

Recap of Election 2018

S26 E2 Length 56:34 Premiere Date 11/13/18

Election 2018 Preview

S26 E1 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 11/05/18

See All Episodes

caret down

TV Schedules

Jump to Recent Airdates


2024 Legislative Session Preview - S30 E33

Renee Shaw hosts a 2024 legislative session preview. Scheduled guests: State Representative Chad Aull (D-Lexington); State Representative Stephanie Dietz (R-Edgewood); State Senator Cassie Chambers Armstrong (D-Louisville); and State Senator Amanda Mays Bledsoe (R- Lexington). A 2023 KET production.

  • Tuesday December 5, 2023 11:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday December 5, 2023 10:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday December 6, 2023 1:00 am ET on KET
  • Wednesday December 6, 2023 12:00 am CT on KET
  • Wednesday December 6, 2023 6:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday December 6, 2023 5:00 pm CT on KETKY

Kentucky Tonight - S30 E34

  • Monday December 18, 2023 8:00 pm ET on KET
  • Monday December 18, 2023 7:00 pm CT on KET
  • Tuesday December 19, 2023 6:00 am ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday December 19, 2023 5:00 am CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday December 19, 2023 2:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday December 19, 2023 1:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday December 19, 2023 11:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday December 19, 2023 10:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday December 20, 2023 2:00 am ET on KET
  • Wednesday December 20, 2023 1:00 am CT on KET
  • Wednesday December 20, 2023 6:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday December 20, 2023 5:00 pm CT on KETKY
Jump to Upcoming Airdates


2024 Legislative Session Preview - S30 E33

  • Tuesday December 5, 2023 2:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday December 5, 2023 1:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday December 5, 2023 6:00 am ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday December 5, 2023 5:00 am CT on KETKY
  • Monday December 4, 2023 8:00 pm ET on KET
  • Monday December 4, 2023 7:00 pm CT on KET

2024 Legislative Preview - S30 E32

  • Wednesday November 22, 2023 6:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday November 22, 2023 5:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday November 22, 2023 1:36 am ET on KET
  • Wednesday November 22, 2023 12:36 am CT on KET
  • Tuesday November 21, 2023 11:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday November 21, 2023 10:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday November 21, 2023 2:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday November 21, 2023 1:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday November 21, 2023 6:00 am ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday November 21, 2023 5:00 am CT on KETKY
  • Monday November 20, 2023 8:00 pm ET on KET
  • Monday November 20, 2023 7:00 pm CT on KET

2023 Election - S30 E31

  • Tuesday November 7, 2023 2:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday November 7, 2023 1:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday November 7, 2023 6:00 am ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday November 7, 2023 5:00 am CT on KETKY
  • Monday November 6, 2023 8:00 pm ET on KET
  • Monday November 6, 2023 7:00 pm CT on KET


Explore KET