Lawmakers pulled successful 2013 session from grips of more-of-the-same gridlock

03/31/2013 05:36 PM

(WITH LEGISLATIVE WRAP-UP VIDEO) — About midday last Monday, the second-to-last day of the 2013 General Assembly, a visibly frustrated House Speaker Greg Stumbo left Gov. Steve Beshear’s office.

Negotiations over pension reform were reaching a pivotal point, but Stumbo knew House Democrats wouldn’t go for a proposal that included lowering the gas tax. The idea, as Beshear and Senate leaders, saw it was that the gas tax decrease would offset tax loophole closures and a reduction of a personal deduction that would help pay for the state’s increased payment into the Kentucky Retirement System.

Many House Democrats in rural areas run on their ability to bring back needed funding for infrastructure, including road projects funded by … the gas tax. Plus, local officials in those areas wouldn’t be happy. Stumbo knew that.

The real stars of the negotiations, though, were Beshear and Senate President Robert Stivers, who cemented a solid working relationship in the process. Stivers offered creative ways craft a proposal that could be billed as “revenue neutral” and could be politically palatable. And Beshear acted as chief negotiator, arbitrator and emissary on the Capitol’s first floor.

By the next afternoon, the parameters of of another deal without the gas tax was in place, and a bill making changes to the Kentucky Retirement System and a companion bill to help boost the general fund’s contribution into the pension system by nearly $100 million would, indeed, pass.

Locking down agreements on pension changes by 8 p.m. Tuesday did two things. It automatically raised lawmakers’ self-assessment of the session from “failing” to about a “B” grade, as Sen. Jimmy Higdon, R-Lebanon put it.

“We disagreed without being disagreeable. I think there’s been a whole different attitude,” Higdon said. (Watch the interview with his reaction to the session at the end of the post).

Secondly, it allowed legislators to focus on negotiating deals over several other issues, including a measure to regulate industrial hemp and an overseas military voting bill before the midnight deadline.

Lawmakers sometimes act a lot like reporters: they wait to get much of their work done until just before deadline. And the 2013 session was no exception. Check out the Pure Politics review of what got done in the 30-day session:

Higdon told Pure Politics on Tuesday night that he believes the working relationship established between the new Senate Republican leadership team, House Democratic leaders and Beshear:


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