Conservative Republican Damon Thayer drove Kentuckys Senate Bill 2, which recently overhauled one of the worst-funded U.S. retirement systems. The states $30 billion to $35 billion in unfunded pension liabilities was a huge fiscal drain and a looming fiscal crisis, according to Thayer, 46. A 2008 pension bill had failed to reverse the systems rapid plunge in funding, so the senator made reform a priority for 2012. The largely conservative state legislature formed the bipartisan Task Force on Kentucky Public Pensions, which Michigan State University communications grad Thayer cochaired. With input from the Pew Charitable Trusts ( No. 22) and the Laura and John Arnold Foundation (No. 3), the task force proposed moving to a cash balance plan for new employees in which taxpayers and workers would contribute and benefits would accrue throughout a career. They also called for the state to make full contributions by 2015 a big change from the previous deadline of 2024. Labor unions and AARP Kentucky resisted the plan, arguing that it would increase costs and shrink benefits, but Governor Steve Beshear signed Bill 2 into law this April. Michigan native Thayer kicked off his political career soon after moving to Kentucky in 1992; before becoming a senator in 2003, he was a senior communications and event management executive in the Thoroughbred racing industry.
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