Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Local News

March 4, 2013

Special legislative session ahead?

House and Senate pointing fingers over stalled pension fix

FRANKFORT — Did someone mention a special session?

Already, the Democratic-controlled House and Republican-controlled Senate were pointing fingers of blame over a stalled pension fix and the possibility pension reform will require a special session.

Reflecting what he’s been saying the past couple of days, House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, Friday seemed to think a special session is inevitable and he wants the Senate to take the blame.

“Their actions have indicated they don’t want to address the (pension) issue in a responsible manner and they don’t want to do it in this session,” Stumbo said.

After blaming the House for failing to agree to a pension reform bill sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, which was based on recommendations by a bi-partisan task force, Thayer and Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said the House failed to follow the recommendations of that task force.

After the Senate passed Thayer’s bill, the House “gutted” it in Thayer’s words, essentially re-writing the entire proposal and sent it back to the Senate. The House also passed a complex funding plan, based on increased lottery sales and an expansion of instant racing — an issue currently in front of the Kentucky Supreme Court — but with less than 60 votes.

Section 36 of the state Constitution says any revenue or measures require a three-fifths majority (60 votes in the 100-member House, 23 in the 38-member Senate) in odd-year, non-budget sessions.

So the Senate refused to accept the House funding measure. Friday morning, the House sent the Senate a letter saying it was refusing to accept the Senate’s pension bill because it apparently didn’t have an actuarial study when it was passed out of a Senate committee.

But on Wednesday, Stumbo ruled out of order Minority Leader Jeff Hoover’s contention that the House version failed the same test. The House then approved an amended version of the Senate bill which on Friday it told the Senate was out of order.

Confused?

Reporters Friday were scurrying between the two chambers’ leaders asking where each bill was — in which chamber’s possession in parliamentary language. Stivers had perhaps the best answer for the pension reform bill originally passed out of the Senate.

“It kind of reminds me of purgatory,” Stivers said. “Maybe the public will either pray it in or pray it out.

He and Thayer tried to paint the House as backing out on an agreement reached by the task force which they seemed to think was binding on the legislature.

“The position was established by the committee and we went directly to that position and now the House pulls away from a position that their designees negotiated,” Stivers said.

 “What we passed was agreed upon by the task force,” Stivers continued. “So why do they want to change the rules of the game, the practice and procedure right now? It is what all parties agreed to.”

The task force was co-chaired by Thayer and then Rep. Mike Cherry, D-Princeton, who did not seek re-election. When they made their recommendations, the two co-chairs said they thought recommending a funding source to make annual payments into the pension system, the key recommendation, exceeded their jurisdiction.

At the time, they said that is the legislature’s job. They did not recommend no funding source, though Stivers said Friday he recalls the PEW Study for the States consultants who worked with the task force suggested passing the reforms first and dealing with the funding during the normal budget procedure.

House State Government Chair Brent Yonts, D-Greenville, who was a member of the task force and the author of the re-written House version of the Senate bill, said the task force recommendations were never set in stone. He said he didn’t recall the PEW consultants recommending the funding wait.

“The recommendations are a starting point, but they are not the final end game,” Yonts said. “We have two diverging thoughts on what the end game should be.”

Stumbo said it’s irresponsible to pass the pension reforms without a method of paying for them.

Thayer countered that it’s irresponsible not to pass “the structural and systemic changes” now and deal with the costs during next year’s normal budget session.

“You can’t separate them if you want to solve the problem,” Stumbo responded. And then he again said the Senate is likely to cause the governor to call lawmakers back in special session to take up pension reform and tax reform – which might produce new money.

There have been suggestions by some that Gov. Steve Beshear might call a special session to deal with tax reform and pension reform simultaneously.

Thayer and Stivers aren’t enthusiastic about a special session or tax reform.

“There is talk about a special session on tax reform,” Thayer said. “I don’t think we can look the people of Kentucky in the face and say we’re ready to tackle tax reform until we prove to them we’re ready to deal with this big issue.”

Stumbo said he hopes Senate leaders “will take a deep breath” over the weekend and the two sides can negotiate a compromise next week.

Thayer and Stivers said they are ready to work out a compromise.

RONNIE ELLIS writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at rellis@cnhi.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.

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