Politics

State lawmakers return to Frankfort on Friday for a special legislative session to deal with surging pension costs currently being experienced by regional universities and “quasi” state agencies like local health departments.

Gov. Matt Bevin issued the official proclamation for the session on Thursday afternoon, summoning lawmakers to Frankfort and laying out what he hopes will pass into law.

The proclamation is narrowly tailored so that lawmakers will likely only be able to consider a proposal that Bevin has hammered out with Republican leaders of the legislature.

In an interview on WHAS Thursday afternoon, Bevin said there are enough votes to pass his bill.

“I’ve been well-assured by leadership of the House and Senate that they are ready, willing and able and we’ll get it done in the next week or so,” Bevin said.

Bevin’s proposal would provide lower pension costs for the universities and “quasi” agencies as long as they exit the state’s pension system and pay off their share of the state’s pension debt.

The proposal would also give a discount to those agencies if they choose to freeze the pension benefits of their employees and move them into less-generous 401k retirement plans.

There are about 9,000 people currently working for the agencies that would be affected by the bill.

Democrats and state worker groups argue that Bevin’s proposal would be illegal because it would move employees out of the state’s pension system without their permission.

House Democratic Leader Rocky Adkins said that Bevin’s proclamation is so specific that it “makes a mockery of the legislative process.”

“Matt Bevin only has the power to call and dictate the subject matter of a special session.  He does not have the power to write the legislation as well. This is clearly a violation,” Adkins asid.

Jim Carroll, spokesman for the Kentucky Government Retirees advocacy group, said that under Bevin’s proclamation “legislators appear to be effectively blocked from considering any bill other than BR 19 (Bevin’s proposal).”

“We are appalled and disappointed that, in direct conflict to the interests of affected stakeholders, an alternative bill will apparently not receive the fair hearing that it deserves,” Carroll said.

Democrats in Kentucky’s House of Representatives have proposed their own bill to try and address the issue by temporarily shifting money from the state’s retiree health insurance fund and adopting slightly more optimistic assumptions for pension investments and payroll growth — moves that would require the agencies to put less money towards pensions.

Democrats also argue that Bevin’s proposal will take a three-fifths majority to pass out of each chamber of the legislature because that’s how many votes it takes to pass bills that spend or raise money outside of a “budget-writing” session.

During the interview on WHAS Thursday, Bevin said “we have the votes needed to pass this and that’s all that matters.”

“I have somewhere between 50 and 100, how’s that?”

Bevin and Republican leaders of the legislature say they hope the session will last five days: Friday, Saturday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

It costs the state about $65,000 every day the legislature is in session.

This story has been updated.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.