Kentucky lawmakers return to Frankfort for the final day of this year’s legislative session on Thursday and will have to decide whether to override vetoes made by Gov. Matt Bevin and pass any bills at the last minute.
Bevin has already signed dozens of bills into law this legislative session, including a handful of anti-abortion measures, a yet-to-be funded school safety bill and changes to the tax code that reduce state revenue by about $105 million per year.
The biggest decision lawmakers will have to make on the final day is whether to pass House Bill 358, a measure that would provide relief to regional universities and quasi-state agencies facing massive contributions to the pension system while also damaging the funding level of the pension system.
Bevin told reporters on Thursday that he is in dialogue with lawmakers over what will happen on the last day.
“These things are still being worked out. It’s very difficult, it’s complicated. A lot of good work being done and I expect good things will come out of tomorrow,” Bevin said.
The House and Senate have passed different versions of House Bill 358, which attempts to provide relief to regional state universities and “quasi” state agencies like rape crisis centers and local health departments that are facing massive increases in the amount they have to pay to Kentucky’s pension system.
Both versions would delay the increase for another year, but then would allow different groups to exit the pension system, a move that would deprive the ailing system of money it is expecting.
The House’s version would allow regional universities to exit the state’s pension system in exchange for paying off their share of the retirement debt over 25 years.
The Senate version would also allow the “quasi” agencies to exit the pension system and transition its employees to 401k-type retirement plans.
Jim Carroll, president of advocacy group Kentucky Government Retirees, has warned lawmakers that both versions of the bill would deprive the state’s struggling pension systems of even more money.
“Enactment of HB 358 may well pound the final nail in the coffin of a pension plan that is relied upon by tens of thousands of state employees,” Carroll said in a statement. “The path forward is clear – provide supplemental appropriations so that quasi-government agencies can continue to pay their fair share of pension costs and ensure the contract rights of their employees.”
The main pension system for most state employees is only 13 percent funded.
Bevin has issued two vetoes this legislative session, striking down a bill that would give the legislature more power over how the governor’s administration interprets laws they pass, and deleting parts of a budget bill that deal with how area development districts spend money and how universities handle property.
In his veto message of House Bill 4, the bill dealing with administrative regulations, Bevin said the measure “serves as a solution for a problem that does not exist” and would stymie the “Red Tape Reduction Initiative,” the governor’s campaign to scrap regulations he says are burdensome for businesses.
In the veto message of House Bill 268, the budget bill, Bevin said he had been contacted by stakeholders who asked for the provisions to be removed.
The legislature has shown great willingness to override Bevin’s vetoes in recent years. It takes a simple majority of votes to override a veto in Kentucky — 51 out of 100 votes in the House and 19 out of 38 votes in the Senate.