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A Proposal for Pension Reform

Renee's guest Gordon Hamlin, president of Pro Bono Public Pensions and a retired attorney, offers ideas about how to fix Kentucky's ailing public pension systems. Hamlin recommends that Kentucky transition to a shared risk pension plan: longer working careers, elimination of cost of living adjustments, and transition to career average formula.
Season 13 Episode 6 Length 28:02 Premiere: 10/13/17

A Proposal for Fixing Public Pensions

It would be a drastic step: Declaring the teacher and county employees pension plans bankrupt so that the inviolable contract covering retirement benefits could be completely renegotiated.

But that’s an option one consultant thinks state lawmakers should consider as they develop a plan to address the unfunded liabilities in Kentucky’s public employee retirement systems.

Gordon Hamlin is a retired lawyer-turned-pension expert living in Alabama. His firm, Pro Bono Public Pensions, consults on retirement issues across the country. He’s in Kentucky to discuss ways to resolve the state’s pension crisis, and he shared some of those ideas on KET’s Connections.
 

 
Hamlin is a Harvard-trained lawyer who specialized in antitrust and consumer law for a large Atlanta firm. From 1989 to 1996, he represented Kentucky’s public school districts in milk bid-rigging cases that resulted $15 million being returned to those schools.

In retirement, Hamlin has studied the finances of retirement and pension plans through an online course at Stanford Graduate School of Business. His Pro Bono Public Pensions is a non-profit organization with board members that include a former chief actuary at the U.S. Social Security Administration and a former chief investment advisor for North Carolina’s public employee pension plan. The organization takes no pay for its services, but does ask that its consultants’ expenses be paid.

In reviewing Kentucky’s pension crisis, Hamlin says he is working with former state Attorney General Fred Cowan, a Democrat, and former Oldham County Judge-Executive Duane Murner, a Republican who was a president of Commonwealth Life Insurance Company.

“All three of us believe this is not a Democratic or Republican issue,” Hamlin says. “This is an issue that effects everybody in Kentucky and we just want to help.”

“Impairing the Inviolable Contract”
In late August, representatives of the PFM Group gave lawmakers their recommendations for fixing the state retirement plans, which are mired in unfunded liabilities totaling between $35 and $80 billion. They suggested increasing the retirement age for most state workers, moving new hires into 401(k)-type retirement plans, and clawing back cost-of-living adjustments earned by retirees between 1996 and 2012.

Hamlin says he concurs with most of PFM’s financial calculations, although he says did find a few small mistakes. But he differs with PFM, Gov. Matt Bevin, and others who advocate moving new state employees into 401(k)-type defined contribution plans. He says such plans aren’t reliable as a primary vehicle for retirement savings given the substantial losses many 401(k)s sustained during the financial crisis.

As for PFM’s other recommendations, Hamlin says many of those ideas would violate the contract that spells out the specific benefits employees are promised upon retirement. Given the binding nature of that inviolable contract, Hamlin sees only one option for those in the Kentucky Teachers’ Retirement System (KTRS) and the County Employees Retirement System (CERS).

“The only way, in my opinion, that this is going to get resolved is by voluntarily impairing the inviolable contract,” Hamlin says. “This is going to have to be resolved in a Chapter 9 bankruptcy proceeding.”

Chapter 9 gives financially strapped cities, counties, school districts, and other local government subdivisions protection from their creditors while they develop a plan for addressing their debts. (Hamlin says this strategy wouldn’t work for state employees because states can’t file for bankruptcy.)

Reorganization and Renegotiation
Under Hamlin’s scheme, each municipality and school district would already have a reorganization plan in place when they file for bankruptcy. Current employees and retirees as well as legislators would pre-approve that plan so the bankruptcy judge would have no reason to deny the reorganization.

“Once you’ve got the plan, then you tell the school districts, the new rule is that you’re going to have to pay the pension contributions,” says Hamlin. “That’s the way most states do it as part of their local budgets…. So there will need to be some extra money flowing to school districts to be sure.”

Since retirement benefits can then be renegotiated, Hamlin recommends moving towards what he calls a shared risk pension plan. Modeled on public retirement plans in Canada, shared risk pensions ask employees to have longer working careers. Their benefits are calculated on a total career average formula, not just the last few years before the individual retires. The plan also eliminates cost-of-living adjustments except during periods of strong economic growth.

Hamlin admits his ideas can seem daunting and complicated. But he says once one school district or municipality completes a successful bankruptcy reorganization of its pension obligations, all the other communities and schools can follow the same template.

“It sounds threatening, but if you’ve followed the process correctly, then at the end of the day people should say this is the plan we can support,” Hamlin says. “This is going to improve the state’s bond ratings, it’s going to reduce our unfunded liabilities, it’s going to give us cost-of-living adjustments as the economy does well, so we all share in the upside and to some extent we share in the downside.”

Another way to stabilize the pension plans is to review the investment strategies. Hamlin notes that the Canadian plans have gotten excellent returns by investing in infrastructure projects worldwide. They also work to maintain 120 percent funding of their plans so that they have a financial cushion during economic downturns.

As for generating more revenues to help pay down Kentucky’s pension obligations, Hamlin says state lawmakers could consider taxing Social Security payments, 401(k) distributions, military and federal employee retirements and other forms of pension income. He says that represents about $1 billion that’s currently going untaxed in the commonwealth.

Hamlin says Kentucky has the second worst funded pension system in the nation, lagging only Illinois, which he says has $500 billion in pension liabilities. Whatever approach lawmakers in the commonwealth pursue, Hamlin praises state officials for finally making retirement reform a top priority.

“Gov. Bevin is to be commended for raising this issue in the public consciousness,” Hamlin says. “We might disagree with the approach that’s been taken, but it is vitally important to have all this out and aired in a public setting.”

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Season 13 Episodes

Marcie Timmerman - Mental Health and Wellness

S13 E43 Length 28:03 Premiere Date 08/24/18

Tiffany Manuel - Affordable Housing

S13 E42 Length 27:32 Premiere Date 08/17/18

Jessica Dueñas - 2019 Kentucky Teacher of the Year

S13 E41 Length 28:52 Premiere Date 08/10/18

2018 KIDS COUNT Data Book

S13 E37 Length 28:48 Premiere Date 07/13/18

A New Task Force on Opioids

S13 E36 Length 28:07 Premiere Date 07/06/18

Shining a Spotlight on Epilepsy

S13 E35 Length 28:02 Premiere Date 06/29/18

Criminal Justice Reform

S13 E34 Length 28:32 Premiere Date 06/22/18

Jay Box - Kentucky Community and Technical College

S13 E33 Length 28:03 Premiere Date 06/15/18

Interim Kentucky Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis

S13 E32 Length 28:03 Premiere Date 06/08/18

Bob King - Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education

S13 E31 Length 28:09 Premiere Date 06/01/18

Rachel Childress - Lexington Habitat for Humanity

S13 E30 Length 26:22 Premiere Date 05/25/18

2018 Kentucky Primary Races

S13 E29 Length 29:52 Premiere Date 05/18/18

Dr. Donna Grigsby

S13 E28 Length 28:03 Premiere Date 05/11/18

Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention

S13 E27 Length 28:02 Premiere Date 05/04/18

Kosair Charities Face It Movement; Terry Brooks

S13 E25 Length 28:27 Premiere Date 04/20/18

Child Marriage Laws in Kentucky - Donna Pollard

S13 E24 Length 28:42 Premiere Date 04/13/18

Remembering Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

S13 E23 Length 29:22 Premiere Date 04/06/18

Secretary Derrick Ramsey - Apprenticeships

S13 E22 Length 28:09 Premiere Date 02/23/18

Educational Innovation

S13 E21 Length 28:45 Premiere Date 02/16/18

Gerald Smith

S13 E20 Length 28:12 Premiere Date 02/09/18

Perry Bacon Jr.

S13 E18 Length 28:02 Premiere Date 02/02/18

DV8 Kitchen

S13 E17 Length 28:37 Premiere Date 01/19/18

Silas House, New Novel

S13 E16 Length 28:03 Premiere Date 01/16/18

Tawanda Owsley

S13 E15 Length 26:32 Premiere Date 01/05/18

Sexual Harassment Issues

S13 E14 Length 28:37 Premiere Date 12/15/17

Disability Rates and Benefits

S13 E13 Length 27:27 Premiere Date 12/08/17

Good Samaritans

S13 E12 Length 28:42 Premiere Date 11/17/17

A Salute to Heroes

S13 E10 Length 26:18 Premiere Date 11/10/17

Legislative Health Policy

S13 E9 Length 28:12 Premiere Date 11/03/17

Elder Care

S13 E8 Length 29:31 Premiere Date 10/27/17

Preventing Youth Suicide

S13 E7 Length 28:17 Premiere Date 10/20/17

A Proposal for Pension Reform

S13 E6 Length 28:02 Premiere Date 10/13/17

Rethinking Pain Medication

S13 E5 Length 28:02 Premiere Date 10/06/17

Former Gov. Steve Beshear

S13 E4 Length 28:53 Premiere Date 09/29/17

Secretary Elaine Chao

S13 E3 Length 28:52 Premiere Date 09/22/17

Smoking Cessation and Pregnancy

S13 E2 Length 29:32 Premiere Date 09/08/17

Author and Journalist Sam Quinones

S13 E1 Length 28:52 Premiere Date 09/01/17

Author and Journalist Sam Quinones

Preview Length 28:52 Premiere Date 09/01/17

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Premiered On: 01/31/2021

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Renee Shaw talks with early childhood education expert Sarah Taylor Vanover, Ed.D., about why America's childcare industry is on the verge of collapse and what can be done to save it. Vanover is the author of "America's Child-Care Crisis: Rethinking an Essential Business."

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Premiered On: 06/06/2021

Renee Shaw talks with restaurateur and culinary artist Ouita Michel about her first cookbook, Just a Few Miles South: Timeless Recipes from Our Favorite Places, which features some favorite recipes of her restaurant patrons.

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Premiered On: 06/13/2021

Renee Shaw and psychologist Julie Cerel, Ph.D., a professor in the University of Kentucky College of Social Work, discuss grief and mental health challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic.

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  • Thursday January 26, 2023 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Beth Silvers and Sarah Stewart Holland - S15 E10

  • Wednesday January 25, 2023 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 25, 2023 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 25, 2023 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 25, 2023 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Alice Allison Dunnigan - Pioneering Journalist - S15 E9

  • Tuesday January 24, 2023 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday January 24, 2023 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday January 24, 2023 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday January 24, 2023 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday January 24, 2023 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday January 24, 2023 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Terry Brooks - Kentucky Youth Advocates - S15 E6

  • Monday January 23, 2023 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday January 23, 2023 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday January 23, 2023 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday January 23, 2023 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday January 23, 2023 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Monday January 23, 2023 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Former Congressman John Yarmuth - S18 E16

  • Wednesday January 25, 2023 4:30 am ET on KET
  • Wednesday January 25, 2023 3:30 am CT on KET
  • Sunday January 22, 2023 6:00 pm ET on KET2
  • Sunday January 22, 2023 5:00 pm CT on KET2
  • Sunday January 22, 2023 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Sunday January 22, 2023 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Sunday January 22, 2023 12:00 pm ET on KET
  • Sunday January 22, 2023 11:00 am CT on KET

Pastor Edward Palmer - Racial Bias and Juvenile Justice Reform - S15 E2

  • Friday January 20, 2023 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday January 20, 2023 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday January 20, 2023 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday January 20, 2023 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday January 20, 2023 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Friday January 20, 2023 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Mike Runyon and Sherita Miller; Wendy Kobler - S14 E35

  • Thursday January 19, 2023 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Thursday January 19, 2023 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Thursday January 19, 2023 2:11 pm ET on KETKY
  • Thursday January 19, 2023 1:11 pm CT on KETKY
  • Thursday January 19, 2023 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Thursday January 19, 2023 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Brent Hutchinson; Christine Thompson - Education - S14 E32

  • Wednesday January 18, 2023 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 18, 2023 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 18, 2023 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 18, 2023 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 18, 2023 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 18, 2023 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Education in Rural Eastern Kentucky - S14 E27

  • Tuesday January 17, 2023 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday January 17, 2023 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday January 17, 2023 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday January 17, 2023 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday January 17, 2023 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday January 17, 2023 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Joshua A. Douglas - Voting Rights Reform - S14 E25

  • Monday January 16, 2023 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday January 16, 2023 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday January 16, 2023 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday January 16, 2023 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday January 16, 2023 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Monday January 16, 2023 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Former State Rep. Joni Jenkins - S18 E15

  • Sunday January 22, 2023 8:00 am ET on KETKY
  • Sunday January 22, 2023 7:00 am CT on KETKY
  • Saturday January 21, 2023 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Saturday January 21, 2023 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 18, 2023 4:30 am ET on KET
  • Wednesday January 18, 2023 3:30 am CT on KET
  • Sunday January 15, 2023 6:00 pm ET on KET2
  • Sunday January 15, 2023 5:00 pm CT on KET2
  • Sunday January 15, 2023 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Sunday January 15, 2023 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Sunday January 15, 2023 12:00 pm ET on KET
  • Sunday January 15, 2023 11:00 am CT on KET

Colene Elridge - S14 E23

  • Friday January 13, 2023 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday January 13, 2023 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday January 13, 2023 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday January 13, 2023 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday January 13, 2023 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Friday January 13, 2023 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Marcie Timmerman - Mental Health and Wellness - S13 E43

  • Thursday January 12, 2023 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Thursday January 12, 2023 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Thursday January 12, 2023 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Thursday January 12, 2023 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Tiffany Manuel - Affordable Housing - S13 E42

  • Wednesday January 11, 2023 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 11, 2023 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 11, 2023 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 11, 2023 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 11, 2023 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 11, 2023 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Shining a Spotlight on Epilepsy - S13 E35

  • Tuesday January 10, 2023 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday January 10, 2023 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday January 10, 2023 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday January 10, 2023 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday January 10, 2023 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday January 10, 2023 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Criminal Justice Reform - Cherise Fanno Burdeen - S13 E34

  • Monday January 9, 2023 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday January 9, 2023 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday January 9, 2023 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday January 9, 2023 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday January 9, 2023 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Monday January 9, 2023 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Lexington Mayor Linda Gorton - S18 E14

  • Sunday January 15, 2023 8:00 am ET on KETKY
  • Sunday January 15, 2023 7:00 am CT on KETKY
  • Saturday January 14, 2023 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Saturday January 14, 2023 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 11, 2023 4:30 am ET on KET
  • Wednesday January 11, 2023 3:30 am CT on KET
  • Sunday January 8, 2023 6:00 pm ET on KET2
  • Sunday January 8, 2023 5:00 pm CT on KET2
  • Sunday January 8, 2023 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Sunday January 8, 2023 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Sunday January 8, 2023 12:00 pm ET on KET
  • Sunday January 8, 2023 11:00 am CT on KET

Dr. Donna Grigsby - S13 E28

  • Friday January 6, 2023 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday January 6, 2023 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday January 6, 2023 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday January 6, 2023 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday January 6, 2023 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Friday January 6, 2023 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Kosair Charities Face It Movement; Terry Brooks - S13 E25

  • Thursday January 5, 2023 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Thursday January 5, 2023 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Thursday January 5, 2023 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Thursday January 5, 2023 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Child Marriage Laws in Kentucky - Donna Pollard - S13 E24

  • Wednesday January 4, 2023 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 4, 2023 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 4, 2023 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 4, 2023 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Remembering Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. - S13 E23

  • Tuesday January 3, 2023 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday January 3, 2023 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday January 3, 2023 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday January 3, 2023 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Educational Innovation - S13 E21

  • Monday January 2, 2023 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday January 2, 2023 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday January 2, 2023 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday January 2, 2023 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday January 2, 2023 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Monday January 2, 2023 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Bob Jackson - Murray State University - S18 E4

  • Sunday January 8, 2023 8:00 am ET on KETKY
  • Sunday January 8, 2023 7:00 am CT on KETKY
  • Saturday January 7, 2023 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Saturday January 7, 2023 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 4, 2023 4:30 am ET on KET
  • Wednesday January 4, 2023 3:30 am CT on KET
  • Monday January 2, 2023 4:30 am ET on KET
  • Monday January 2, 2023 3:30 am CT on KET
  • Sunday January 1, 2023 6:00 pm ET on KET2
  • Sunday January 1, 2023 5:00 pm CT on KET2
  • Sunday January 1, 2023 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Sunday January 1, 2023 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Sunday January 1, 2023 12:00 pm ET on KET
  • Sunday January 1, 2023 11:00 am CT on KET

Melynda Jamison - CASA of Lexington - S18 E2

  • Sunday January 1, 2023 8:00 am ET on KETKY
  • Sunday January 1, 2023 7:00 am CT on KETKY
  • Saturday December 31, 2022 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Saturday December 31, 2022 3:30 pm CT on KETKY

Gerald Smith - S13 E20

  • Friday December 30, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday December 30, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday December 30, 2022 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday December 30, 2022 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday December 30, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Friday December 30, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

DV8 Kitchen - S13 E17

  • Thursday December 29, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Thursday December 29, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Thursday December 29, 2022 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Thursday December 29, 2022 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Thursday December 29, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Thursday December 29, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Silas House - S13 E16

  • Wednesday December 28, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday December 28, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday December 28, 2022 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday December 28, 2022 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday December 28, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday December 28, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Sexual Harassment Issues - Consultant Rus Funk - S13 E14

  • Tuesday December 27, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday December 27, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday December 27, 2022 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday December 27, 2022 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday December 27, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday December 27, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Good Samaritans - Surgery on Sunday; Bluegrass Families First and One Parent Scholar House - S13 E12

  • Monday December 26, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday December 26, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday December 26, 2022 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday December 26, 2022 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
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