FRANKFORT — Gov. Steve Beshear, the Democratic House and Republican Senate apparently are no closer to agreement on how to fund changes to the state pension system, a key difference on perhaps the most important issue still facing the 2013 General Assembly.
Beshear sidestepped the question Wednesday when he was asked by a reporter if the Senate had offered a way to pay for proposed changes to the underfunded state employee pension system.
“What I can say to you is the Senate and the House and I are discussing both pension reform and possible options for funding it,” Beshear answered.
But Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, later said there has been no funding proposal offered by the Senate.
“The Governor has discussed a menu of items with us, but there has been no proposal presented by the Senate.”
Kentucky’s employee pension systems are badly underfunded and Moody’s Investor Service recently downgraded the state’s credit ratings until it shores up those systems.
The Republican Senate passed a package of reforms based on recommendations of a task force which would move new employees into a hybrid, cash-balance plan but maintain current defined benefits for existing employees and retirees.
The bill states the General Assembly’s “intent” to begin fully funding the system — but it provides no defined source of revenues to do that.
The House rewrote the bill to maintain defined benefits even for new employees and passed a companion bill which calls for using revenues from expanded lottery games and instant racing to pay for the annual contributions. But the Senate refused to consider either bill.
House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, and Beshear want a specified funding source for pension reform.
But Stivers and majority floor leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, who sponsored the Senate pension bill and co-chaired the pension task force, have repeatedly said they want to fund the pension contributions within the current budget and projected revenue growth.
Stumbo released a statement which indicated Republicans may at least be considering some kind of funding method.
“I understand the Senate is working on a funding plan, but I haven’t seen the details yet or spoken with anyone in the Senate about it,” said Stumbo in a statement.
Lawmakers recessed last week until next Monday and Tuesday, Mar. 25 and 26, providing time for Beshear to consider vetoing any bills already passed. Pension discussions have continued during the interim and Beshear said he remains hopeful a deal can be worked out.
While the funding piece seems a key disagreement, the two sides haven’t indicated a resolution on their differences about how to structure reforms either. But Beshear Wednesday still held out hope.
“We have not reached any final agreement on anything yet,” Beshear said. “But those discussions continue and I remain hopeful that by Monday or Tuesday we will come to a positive resolution.”
The governor also said he is reviewing arguments about whether he should veto a “religious freedom” bill, but he hasn’t made a decision.
The Religious Freedom Act, HB 279, was sponsored by Rep. Bob Damron, R-Nicholasville, and passed by wide margins in both the House and Senate. It would require that government must demonstrate clear and convincing evidence of a compelling state interest before enforcing laws which infringe on people’s religious freedom.
Damron’s bill was a reaction to a case last year in which members of the conservative Schwartzentruber Amish sect were arrested and fined for failing to display orange, rectangular “slow-moving vehicle” symbols on their horse-drawn buggies. They contend the symbols violated their religious beliefs.
The case reached the Kentucky Supreme Court which upheld the arrests, but the General Assembly subsequently changed the slow-moving vehicle law to accommodate the Amish objection.
But several civil rights groups, including gay rights groups, have said HB 279, Damron’s’ bill this year, might provide a legal basis for ignoring civil rights laws regarding fair housing or employment. Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer earlier this week wrote Beshear urging him to veto the bill.
“We’re gathering as much information as we can this week by folks who have concerns on both sides of that bill,” Beshear said. “We’re hearing a lot from a lot of folks, and I’m trying to get my arms around it so that I can make the best-informed decision I can.”
Beshear has three options: sign the bill into law; allow it to become law without his signature; or veto it. But the legislature can override his veto with simple majorities of both chambers, 51 votes in the House and 20 votes in the Senate.
The House passed the bill 82-7 while the Senate voted for it 29-6.
Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at email@example.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/
- Local News
Legislature passes road-spending plan
Kentucky House and Senate lawmakers agreed Tuesday to a $4.1 billion road-spending plan on the legislature’s final day, avoiding an expensive special session.
The plan includes $5.2 billion worth of projects throughout the state. But as much as 25 percent of that money will not be spent. Lawmakers said they would like to include a cushion in case some projects are delayed because of environmental concerns or problems acquiring land.
Health fairs cover contemporary teenage topics
Berea Community High School health students coordinated their first all-day health fair in November that was catered to elementary students.
But their spring fair Monday handled more mature issues that targeted the middle and high school crowd, said health teacher Cathy Jones.
Police: Woman drove through storage business gate
Richmond police arrested a Lexington woman Monday night after the property manager at Main Street Storage said she repeatedly drove her vehicle into a gate and fence at the 455 E. Main St. business.
Local jobless rate for 2013 same as 2012
Madison was one of 12 Kentucky counties with a 2013 jobless rate unchanged from the previous year, according to statistics released Tuesday.
Still, only four counties – Woodford, 6.1; Fayette and Oldham, 6.5; and Scott, 6.7 – had jobless rates better than Madison’s 6.8 percent.
Danville officials table fairness ordinance
City officials in Danville have tabled an anti-discrimination proposal.
The Advocate-Messenger reports that the move on Monday came after questions were raised about its legality and suggestions were made for changes.
Grimes outpaces McConnell in first quarter
Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes has again outpaced her likely Republican general election opponent, incumbent Mitch McConnell, in fundraising during the first quarter — but she remains well behind McConnell in total fundraising and cash on hand.
$250,000 wrecker stolen
A representative of Barger’s Wrecking Service, North Porter Drive, reported to Richmond police Sunday that a black, 1996 Peterbilt wrecker with company logos on it was stolen from the business’ parking lot. The wrecker is valued at $250,000, according to the police report.
Owner requests business zoning for corner of West Main and Tates Creek
The owner of three lots at the corner of West Main Street and Tates Creek Avenue wants the property rezoned from R-1B (Single-family Residential) to B-1 (Neighborhood Business).
Regents approve smoke-free campus policy
The Eastern Kentucky University Board of Regents on Monday approved a tobacco-free campus policy and set 2014-15 rates for tuition, housing and meal plans.
Effective June 1, the use of tobacco on all property that is owned, leased, occupied or controlled by the university will be prohibited.
Easter bunny's ‛eggbeater’ will fly eggs to Richmond
Who knew the Easter bunny could fly?
Skeptics can come to the Easter Eggstravaganza in Richmond’s Irvine-McDowell Park on Saturday to see for themselves. However, the bunny still doesn’t fly in bad weather. But on Monday, temperatures in the 60s with partly cloudy skies were predicted for Saturday.
- More Local News Headlines
- Legislature passes road-spending plan