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Bevin continues calls for pension reform in Bowling Green stop
 Don Sergent  / 

If Gov. Matt Bevin came to Bowling Green on Wednesday to make political points in his hotly contested race for reelection against Andy Beshear, he may have come up short.

Speaking to the Bowling Green Rotary Club, the Republican not only continued his calls for reforming the state pension system that incurred the wrath of educators last year but also hinted at the need to boost the state’s tax revenue, usually not a stance that gets votes.

“Talking about pensions and addressing issues like regulations and taxes are political losers,” Bevin admitted as he addressed nearly 100 Rotarians at Bowling Green Country Club. “But we have the responsibility to speak hard truths, and that’s what I’ll continue to do.”

For Bevin, the No. 1 “hard truth” continues to be the need to reform the pension system for state employees.

“Whether I’m governor or someone else is, this issue will have to be dealt with,” Bevin said. “For all intents and purposes, the system is broken.”

The governor looked back to Senate Bill 151 – a bill aimed at reforming the state’s public pension plans – that passed both houses of the state legislature last year, only to be declared unconstitutional on procedural grounds by the Kentucky Supreme Court following a challenge by Beshear in his role as state attorney general.

Bevin said the structural changes in SB 151 – including moving new employees from a defined-benefit plan into a 401(k)-style defined contribution plan – are needed to reform an ailing pension system that has gone from fully funded 20 years ago to about $43 billion in debt today.

“There’s zero chance of saving the pension system if we don’t make structural changes,” Bevin said. “That’s one of the reasons I ran for governor. We’ve been kicking this can down the road for years.”

On another hot topic – funding for higher education – Bevin didn’t dodge the realities faced by Western Kentucky University and other colleges that have been forced to make cuts in staffing and programs because of budget shortfalls.

“I’ve met with university presidents and told them they need to find out where they must invest to give their students the best bang for their buck and other things have to play second fiddle,” he said. “Until we have more money, this will continue.”

Addressing such issues requires an increase in tax revenue, something usually anathema to members of the GOP but an issue that Bevin said he hopes to tackle if elected to a second term.

“The only way to get the money that everyone wants is to have an increase in revenue,” Bevin said. “But the question becomes: how much more are the people willing to pay for the things they want?”

Bevin said he and legislators will need to walk a fine line between coming up with an adequate amount of revenue while maintaining a “business-friendly” environment in Kentucky.

“We need comprehensive change,” he said. “The 138 men and women in the General Assembly will ultimately decide what the final tax package looks like, but it needs to include changes in sales tax, income tax, the gas tax and local option sales tax. Some will move up, some will move down; but the end result will be a more modernized version of what we currently have and make us more competitive with the states around us and attract more business.”

While his core message may not have scored many political points, Bevin did bring some welcome news. He began his speech to the Rotarians with the announcement that the plan to widen a portion of Beech Bend Road will be funded largely or totally through state discretionary road funds.

The governor said $252,500 is being made available for the project to widen an 1,800-foot-long stretch of Beech Bend Road from Garvin Lane to Beech Bend Park Road.

When Warren Fiscal Court approved last week advertising for design-build proposals for the widening project, Public Works Director Josh Moore estimated the project would cost about $200,000.

Bowling Green Mayor Bruce Wilkerson, who requested the funds, said the discretionary dollars made available should pay for a widening project that will provide a third lane from Garvin Lane to the park.

The widening is needed, Moore said last week, to accommodate the large crowds that come to some of the events at Beech Bend.

“We need to provide the best service we can for these events so visitors have a good experience,” he said.

Both Moore and Wilkerson said they would eventually like to see improvements made to the entire 2.75-mile Beech Bend Road that is partly maintained by the county and partly by the city of Bowling Green.

Police solve theft, reunite BG woman with "cherished memento" from late son
 Justin Story  / 

A misplaced iPhone created a moment of opportunity for a thief last month, whose actions deprived Kay White of her last tangible connections to her late son.

White left her purse containing the phone in a shopping cart at Lowe’s on Sept. 5.

She retraced her steps moments after realizing she left the purse behind, searched fruitlessly in the store parking lot and filed a police report when she did not find her missing valuables.

Soon afterward, White made a widely shared post on social media that pleaded with the thief to return the phone, on which were stored pictures and text messages from her son, William Haynes, an elementary school music and drama teacher in Georgia who was killed in a carjacking in 2016.

In addition to the phone’s sentimental value, White also noted in the post that the purse was a Christmas present from her son and his girlfriend.

For all the attention the post received, though, White seemed resigned to a life without the precious keepsakes from her son.

“I realized I had been through a whole lot worse than this. ... I thought, ‘Well, I’m just going to go ahead and buy a phone and start over,’ ” White said. “I remember saying to the woman at the register, ‘Now that I bought this, mine will probably turn up.’ ”

As luck would have it, city police did indeed manage to turn up the phone and White’s purse, returning the items to her Tuesday.

White attributes the reversal of fortune to dogged work by the Bowling Green Police Department, particularly Detective Matthew Irvin, who led the investigation, and Officer Miranda Rone, who took the initial police report.

“I cannot believe that this turned out this way,” White said. “I figured that purse would have hit the dumpster within 30 minutes and the phone would be in a pawn shop.”

Haynes dedicated most of his life to playing and teaching music, beginning when he brought home a baritone horn at age 12.

He cultivated a love of marching band and played in several European cities as a freshman in the Bowling Green High School band, was a standout musician at Western Kentucky University, earned a master’s degree in music education from Florida State University and directed high school bands in Kentucky and Georgia.

After Haynes’ death, White started a memorial fund to purchase instruments for students at Bowling Green and Warren East high schools.

White told the Daily News last month she remembers her son for his wry sense of humor and ability to crack jokes to distract others from their troubles.

Irvin and White kept in touch with each other over the past month, with the detective offering updates in the search for the missing purse.

On Tuesday, Irvin called White with the best news yet – the purse had been returned to the police by the suspected thief.

“If anything kept my spirits up, he did,” White said of Irvin. “Anytime there was something positive, he called me.”

BGPD spokesman Officer Ronnie Ward said the case will be turned over to the Warren County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office for presentation to a grand jury.

Ward said surveillance footage from Lowe’s helped police identify a vehicle that appeared to be related to the theft.

“Really, it was a cooperative effort between a couple of detectives, and Irvin ultimately found the person just by being persistent and looking,” Ward said. “Ultimately, a lot of cases that detectives and officers put a lot of work into don’t have as favorable an outcome as what this one has, and I think everyone is pleased with how this one turned out.”

No one is more pleased than White, who was reunited with her purse, phone and most of the other valuable items in the purse.

White said the phone is missing its SIM card, and a series of text messages Haynes sent during the last days of his life are gone as well, but all the pictures and many other messages remain stored on the phone, which will be put away in a safe place as a cherished memento of her time with Haynes.

“Detective Irvin is a wonder,” White said. “I couldn’t shut up about how grateful I was. He was like a dog after a bone trying to find an answer to all this and he’d just say, ‘Well, that’s what we do here, ma’am.’ “

Retiree checks to rise modestly amid push to expand benefits

WASHINGTON – Millions of retirees will get a modest 1.6 percent cost-of-living increase from Social Security in 2020, an uptick with potential political consequences in an election year when Democrats are pushing more generous inflation protection.

The increase amounts to $24 a month for the average retired worker, according to estimates released Thursday by the Social Security Administration. Following a significant boost this year, the cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA, for 2020 reverts to its pattern of moderate gains.

But seniors and advocates complain that the inflation yardstick used to determine the annual adjustment doesn’t adequately reflect their costs, mainly for health care.

The COLA affects household budgets for about 1 in 5 Americans, nearly 70 million people, and that includes Social Security recipients, disabled veterans and federal retirees.

The criticism of the COLA formula has been taken up by Democratic presidential candidates and congressional Democrats. That’s helped to shift the Social Security debate from what used to be a near-exclusive concern with the program’s solvency to a focus on expanding benefits, including but not limited to the cost-of-living adjustment.

“Most of the discussion about Social Security is about how can we promise more rather than how can we keep the promises we’re already making,” said conservative retirement policy expert Charles Blahous, who as a former public trustee of Social Security once helped oversee its finances.

With the COLA, the estimated average monthly Social Security payment for a retired worker will be $1,503 a month, starting in January.

Joe Schiavone, who retired from flooring sales and lives on Florida’s Space Coast, says it feels like he’s not keeping up.

“My biggest concern is that your money is buying less and less,” said Schiavone, who’s in his early 80s. “The figure that they use for the rise in the cost of living to me is very erroneous.”

Schiavone points to increased health care premiums and copays, along with other kinds of insurance costs, as the main culprits. He expects that part of his COLA for 2020 will be eaten up by an increase in Medicare’s “Part B” premium for outpatient care, which hasn’t been announced yet.

Roughly 1 in 2 seniors live in households where Social Security benefits provide at least half the total income. Schiavone figures his benefits are nearly 70 percent of his income. “None of the jobs I worked on in my life had any sort of pension or 401(k) plans,” he said.

He’s wary of political promises about Social Security. “I very rarely believe what anybody says in a campaign,” said Schiavone. “I really don’t know what to believe.”

Democrats are working to convince older people they have their backs on Social Security. Voters age 65 and older went 53 percent for Donald Trump and 44 percent for Hillary Clinton in 2016, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of people who participated in its surveys and were confirmed to have cast a ballot. Now, Democrats are aiming to recapture older voters.

On the COLA, Democratic presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are proposing to use a measure of inflation that reflects expenses for households headed by a person 62 or older. It usually outpaces the index currently used.

That’s just one of the ideas in their Social Security plans, which would also bolster underlying benefits and raise taxes to keep the program afloat. The leading Social Security overhaul plan in Congress from Rep. John Larson, D-Conn., would also switch to the new measure.

The White House had no comment on the COLA debate. Trump ran on a promise not to cut Social Security benefits. Republicans have resisted expanding Social Security, pointing out it won’t have enough money to pay full benefits starting in 2035.

Economists debate how to best account for inflation’s impact.

Richard Johnson of the Urban Institute think tank said the measure Social Security now uses reflects workers, not retirees. “If the goal is to maintain seniors’ living standards, then the cost-of-living adjustment is going to fall short if it doesn’t measure seniors’ spending,” he said.

But former program trustee Blahous says even the current inflation measure is too generous, because it doesn’t take into account that when prices go up, many people look for cheaper goods. “You would be overpaying COLAs,” he said.

Larson, whose bill has more than 200 co-sponsors, says he believes the politics of Social Security are changing because “reality has set in.”

“Many Americans have not recovered their wealth and assets from the great crash of 2008,” Larson said. “During that time, Social Security did not miss a payment. These benefits are essential for their survival.”

Most private pensions do not provide a COLA, but Social Security has featured inflation protection since 1975. Beneficiaries also gain from compounding since COLAs become part of their underlying benefit, the base for future cost-of-living increases.

Social Security is financed by a 12.4 percent tax on wages, with half paid by workers and the other half paid by employers. Next year, the maximum amount of earnings subject to the Social Security tax will increase from $132,900 to $137,700. About 177 million workers pay Social Security taxes.

State issues official warning against vaping
 Caroline Eggers  / 

Kentucky’s Department for Public Health now officially recommends that people refrain from using vaping products until there is clarity on the new epidemic of lung illness.

“There are thousands of combinations of chemicals” in vaping products, said Christina Mora Dettman, spokeswoman for the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services, so it’s been challenging to pinpoint the source of vaping illnesses.

The state confirmed one case of pulmonary disease associated with vaping this past week and is investigating 25 other cases. Updates will be reported weekly to the cabinet’s new monitoring page for vaping illness.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week reported 1,080 cases of lung illness and 18 deaths associated with vaping.

About 80 percent of the patients are under age 35 –including about 16 percent of patients under age 18 – and 70 percent of the patients are male.

Although vaping-related illnesses are being investigated by state and federal agencies, local health departments might be charged with handling the issue in the future, according to Matt Hunt, director of the Barren River District Health Department.

“It’s something we want to be as proactive as possible on,” Hunt said.

The health department is visiting schools to educate students in fourth grade through high school about the dangers of vaping – and, in particular, the addiction risk with using nicotine products.

At The Medical Center at Bowling Green, pulmonologist Dr. Karan Singh has treated lung illnesses in two 30-something patients that reported vaping CBD oil.

“There has been a sudden epidemic of young kids coming in ending up on a breathing machine,” Singh said in an interview last month. “We don’t really know why all of this is happening.

“Apart from air, there is nothing safe to put in your lungs.”

The CDC recommends avoiding vaping or using electronic cigarette products. If an individual switched to vaping to quit cigarettes, the CDC warns that the individual should not return to smoking cigarettes.

If an individual has been vaping or using e-cigarette products and experiences symptoms, they should seek out a health provider.


Kay White poses with her son, William Haynes, during a birthday celebration before his death three years ago.