Back to the drawing board? Pension funding bill's journey through House could end at Senate's door

02/28/2013 06:54 AM

It took an 1892 Court of Appeals decision and several votes largely down party lines on Wednesday to get the House Democrats’ funding bill for Kentucky’s pension system over to the Senate.

But it might not matter much because Senate Republican leaders say they don’t want it. More specifically, they say they’re not going to accept it because they believe it’s unconstitutional.

The funding bill would create a funding account to increase the state’s payments into the financially beleaguered Kentucky Retirement System using mix of income from expanding the lottery to online accounts and Keno and money from instant racing games at horse racetracks if the Kentucky Supreme Court upholds it.

Revenue bills in a odd-year 30-day sessions requires approval of three-fifths of each chamber to become law. With the House split with 55 Democrats and 45 Republicans, a party-line vote wouldn’t get the measure to 60 votes. When Republican Floor Leader Rep. Jeff Hoover of Jamestown raised that, House Democratic Speaker Greg Stumbo argued that an 1892 Court of Appeals decision ruled that it applied only to a final vote and the Senate would more than likely change the funding bill, which would send it back to the House. After several procedural votes, the measure ultimately passed 52-47 with two Democrats, Reps. Bob Damron of Nicholasville and Rick Nelson of Middlesboro joining the Republicans against it.

And Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said senators are prepared to turn the bill away because they don’t buy the argument that the 60-vote requirement for revenue bills during odd-sessions means final passage only. Here’s what he said:

After told of Stivers’ comments, Stumbo said if the Senate does that, it wouldn’t sit well with House Democrats, hinting that the House could take out their frustration by not taking up some Senate bills.

Lawmakers had started the session talking about “a new day” and how important it was to reach agreement on fixing the Kentucky Retirement System, whose fund for current and retired state workers is just 27 percent funded and in danger of going broke within four or five years.

But Senate Republican leaders and House Democrats have been long-distance squabbling with each other from across the Capitol all session about whether it’s necessary to designate where the money should come from to increase payments into the retirement system. Senate Republicans say the question of dollars can be answered next year when lawmakers craft the next two-year budget, while House Democrats say pension reform without the money is just an empty promise.

The state needs to come up with about $300 million to make its full payment into the Kentucky Retirement System of which a little less than half will come from the general fund. Much of the rest comes from the road fund to cover retirement benefits of state transportation workers.

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