Adkins talks pensions, revenue in Somerset campaign stop

Carla Slavey

Rocky Adkins, minority house leader and Democratic candidate for governor, stopped by a meeting of the Lake Cumberland chapter of the Kentucky Public Retirees organization to discuss pensions and tax reform.

If you're going to run for office, it helps to get your message out to the people who need to hear it most.

For Democratic gubernatorial candidate Rocky Adkins, that message was delivered directly to the Lake Cumberland chapter of Kentucky Public Retirees during a Monday meeting at Mellow Mushroom.

Within that message, Adkins said that he believed that Governor Matt Bevin's attempt at pension reform through Senate Bill 151 - the passage of which was ruled unconstitutional by the Kentucky Supreme Court - was not the way to do things.

"Anytime a bill can go in like that and come out the side rooms to the House floor, to the Senate floor, to the governor's desk in less than seven hours, the impact on you and the impact on your retirement, and future retirement, and current employees is not the right approach, in my opinion."

Adkins is one of four candidates squaring off in the May primary. He will face Andy Beshear, Adam Edelen and Geoff Young in that race and, should he come out on top, will go on to face the Republican nominee in November, whether it be incumbent Matt Bevin, Robert Goforth, Ike Lawrence or William Woods.

Adkins is the current minority floor leader for the Kentucky House of Representatives.

He addressed a crowd of around 60, giving his insight into the current direction of pension and education reform.

"I would tell you that when it comes to pensions, I want you to know first and foremost that I don't agree with this governor's agenda on several different things," Adkins began.

"I happen to think he's wrong in his attempt to try to privatize public education. ... Charter schools will be run by a private, for-profit corporation, take money away from public education in this community and every community across Kentucky. I don't think that's the best path forward for us here in Kentucky."

As for pensions, his message seemed slanted toward keeping previous measures in place, ones that Adkins said were more bi-partisan and allowed stakeholders to have a say.

Those actions, he said seemed to be allowing the pension system to recover.

The reforms of 2013, for example: "Since we made those reforms, here's what's happened to the Kentucky Retirement System alone. From your investment, those of you that belong to the Kentucky Retirement System, the earnings from your investments over the last two years has earned over $2.4 billion."

He added that the return for investments in the Teachers Retirement System was 15.5 percent in 2017, and in 2018 the earnings grew by 18.4 percent. "So we're gradually seeing these systems start to recover."

His belief, therefore, in what to do with the teachers system? "Leave it alone."

That's not to say that the state as a whole is not in need of more revenue. The state budget is running at a deficit of around $150 million and is sitting on more than $13 billion of debt.

So where to find revenue? Adkins said to look at business tax reform.

"In Kentucky, tax loopholes and exemptions total $13 billion. Our total general fund budget is $11 billion. … We don't want to hurt business and industry. We don't want to do something to hurt our communities, but this has not been evaluated in years."

Finding a mere 10 percent of that $13 billion could help fund public education on pensions, he said.

While that was the one proposed way of finding funding that Adkins presented during the speech, afterward he shared some of his other ideas, including using the recently passed federal farm bill to Kentucky's advantage to spur on an industry surrounding hemp production.

"I think that with the passage of the farm bill, we've got another opportunity for a new cash crop, especially for agriculture communities where we could grow a new cash crop and, hopefully from that, be able to recruit industrial hemp manufacturing companies to come to Kentucky. We're already seeing that happen in parts of Kentucky, so I'm excited about that. That opportunity could create actual revenue for the commonwealth of Kentucky, and not only from the farmer that grows it for the cash crop, but especially on the industrial hemp side of it."