By Ronnie Ellis / CNHI News Service
Kentucky lawmakers ended their first week of the 2013 General Assembly Friday amidst feelings of goodwill but adjourned for three weeks before coming back to begin the real work.
Topping that agenda for the Republican Senate is pension reform.
Majority Leader Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, co-chaired a task force which offered recommendations on how to address the problem: come up with about $327 million in the next budget to begin full funding of the required contribution; place new employees in a hybrid, cash-balance plan which guarantees a return of 4 percent but allows the pension fund to bank savings above 4 percent; an end to cost of living adjustments; and taxing retirement benefits.
Thayer said Friday he is “putting the finishing touches” on a bill which he intends to introduce on the first day lawmakers return, Feb. 5. He said Senate members will be briefed on the bill before that date.
Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, has said pension reform is one of the top priorities for Republicans in the current 30-day session and he said again Friday he expects progress on the issue.
“I’m hoping we can come out of this session with at least a framework for what the retirement system should look like for future employees,” Stivers said.
Gov. Steve Beshear and House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, have endorsed the general recommendations but each has said it may be a problem finding the funding.
Beshear has said he will not take money from existing services like education to pay for the pension fix. Beshear wants lawmakers to consider — probably in a subsequent special session — tax reform to produce additional revenues but that is far from a certainty.
Stumbo is in less of a hurry to address the problem than Stivers and Thayer.
“I don’t think there’s any question that everybody wants to solve (the problem),” Stumbo said. “Now where you get the money, that’s when the shoe gets a little bit tighter.”
Stumbo wants a dedicated revenue stream to fund the pension system.
“Until there’s a plan where we can get some funding source, it’s not likely that anything will happen in the House,” Stumbo said Friday.
There also doesn’t seem there is consensus on how to deal with re-districting. Beshear this week sent leaders of both chambers a letter suggesting it be put off until later in the year so it won’t complicate discussion and action on other issues.
Stivers has also said he sees no reason to rush redistricting since there aren’t any elections this year. Friday, he said no decision had been made on how to proceed on redistricting.
Stumbo said his caucus will look at potential maps during the three-week interim but he isn’t sure if the House will proceed.
“If we can, we can, if we can’t we can’t.” he said.
The House leadership did announce committee chairs and assignments Friday. There weren’t many changes.
Rep. Brent Yonts, D-Greenville, will chair the State Government Committee, succeeding longtime chairman Mike Cherry who did not seek re-election this year.
Two eastern Kentucky lawmakers got key Budget Review Subcommittee chairmanships. Leslie Combs, D-Pikeville, will chair the BR Subcommittee on Transportation while John Will Stacy, D-West Liberty, will chair the BR Subcommittee on General Government.
Rep. Keith Hall, D-Phelps, will succeed Combs as chairman of Tourism, Development and Energy.
Stumbo said Democratic leaders tried to accommodate Republican preferences for committee assignments, especially for new members.
“We tried to accommodate all our minority members’ and majority members’ requests as best we could, trying to put them on committees that they were interested in which I believe encourages participation,” Stumbo said.
Republicans apparently requested they be given 45 percent of the seats on the powerful Appropriations and Budget Committee, the percentage they represent of the entire House. That didn’t happen.
Republicans retained their 12 seats, but two Democrats were added, bringing their total to 19.
Other than that, however, Republican Caucus Chairman Bob DeWeese of Louisville said Democratic leaders accepted their requested assignments.
Lawmakers return on Feb. 5 with 26 days left in the odd-year “short session.”
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/cnhifrankfort.