Politics

Kentucky’s Republican-dominated legislature has convened to consider Gov. Matt Bevin’s proposal to help regional universities and “quasi” state agencies deal with a massive spike in pension costs.

Bevin summoned lawmakers to Frankfort for the special legislative session, where only a bill that meets a 12-point list of requirements outlined by the governor in his call for the session will be allowed to pass.

Bevin has been rallying support for his proposal for months and Republican leaders of the legislature say they have enough votes to pass it.

On the first day of the session, lawmakers argued over whether Bevin has the authority to issue such a narrowly-tailored agenda for lawmakers to consider.

House Minority Leader Rocky Adkins, a Democrat from Sandy Hook, said that Bevin is threatening “legislative independence” by only allowing lawmakers to consider his pension proposal.

“He has the ability to dictate the subject, but he does not have the authority or the power to write legislation as well. That’s our job in this chamber,” Adkins said.

Only the governor has the authority to call a special session and set the parameters for what lawmakers can consider.

House Republican leaders pointed out that in 2008, then-Gov. Steve Beshear called a special session that was even more tightly tailored than Bevin’s — lawmakers were only allowed to consider a 179-page bill attached to Beshear’s proclamation calling the session.

Speaker Pro Tem David Meade, a Republican from Sanford, said that the legislature is still acting independently from the governor.

“We pass legislation. The governor does not pass legislation. If we don’t like the call, if we don’t like what’s included in this call, we don’t have to pass anything,” Meade said.

Since July 1, Kentucky’s regional universities and “quasi” state agencies like health departments, rape crisis centers and domestic violence shelters have had surging pension costs. The agencies say the spike could lead to cuts in services or closures.

Ryland Barton | wfpl.org

House Speaker David Osborne speaks to reporters at the Capitol. July 7, 2019.

House Speaker David Osborne, a Republican from Prospect, predicted that the House would pass a pension bill in five working days.

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.

Democrats have their own proposal, which would shift money from the state’s retiree health insurance fund and adopt slightly more optimistic assumptions for pension investments and payroll growth — moves that would require the agencies to put less money towards pensions.

Both the Republican and Democratic bills will be heard in the House State Government committee on Saturday.

Osborne said all bills would be considered, but that Bevin’s narrow call “is going to limit us to some degree as to what we can do.”

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

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