Williams takes shots at Beshear, JCTA; Stumbo opens door for pension reform to business leaders

07/12/2011 06:57 PM

LOUISVILLE — Republican Senate President and gubernatorial candidate David Williams took shots at the man he hopes to replace this fall for declining to appear next to him in front of the state’s business leaders at a forum on Tuesday.

Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear cited scheduling conflicts when declining to appear at a Chamber of Commerce forum with Williams. The forum was intended to address problems in state government.

Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo replaced Beshear during the forum. Beshear is addressing the same crowd at a 7 p.m. dinner tonight.

Williams opened by saying he was glad to return “by popular demand and for the Speaker (Stumbo) by default… that was kind of a joke and kind of not a joke.”

But in a ploy reminiscent of something often done at the Fancy Farm picnic in August, Williams’ campaign circulated and had fun with a person in a chicken costume with a blow-up name tag that said, “Hello, my name is Governor Steve Beshear.” The chicken was an obvious dig at Beshear’s decision to not attend the forum.

In Beshear’s absence, Stumbo and Williams tumbled for the first third of the forum about managed care for Medicaid, which was enacted late last week.

The leaders of the House and Senate didn’t break any new ground on managed care.

Williams repeated that House Democrats and Beshear’s math was fuzzy on the managed care savings. Stumbo defended the contracts and said his side had it right all along.

Another issue included in the chamber’s report, titled “A Stronger Bucket,” was state pensions.

The Senate proposed closing all current state pensions systems during the last legislative session, minus teacher pensions, to new hires. Instead, new hires from across state government would be enrolled in a defined contribution plan, a change from the current defined benefit plan various state pension systems operate in.

That plan died in the House, but Stumbo seemed open to further conversations on changing the pension system for new hires, as long as the state kept its promises to those currently in a pension system.

Williams said he was thankful that Stumbo had left the door open on the pension issue, something Williams said Beshear has not done.

In an“interview”:http://mycn2.com/politics/beshear-still-against-tax-and-pension-reform-despite-opinions-from-leaders-of-both-parties with Pure Politics last week, Beshear reiterated he believes if funded fully, the pension system will work itself out of its underfunding problem.

Williams disagreed. He said until the governor steps up to the plate, it’s unlikely real pension reforms will come out of the General Assembly.

The legislative leaders also took a few questions from business leaders in the crowd, including one about charter schools, another issue the Republican-controlled Senate took up during the 2011 session.

Clearly upset at a lack of progress on the issue, Williams took aim at the Jefferson County Teachers Association and the Kentucky Education Association.

Williams said Jefferson County schools are failing behind because the JCTA refuses to allow reforms or ideas into collective bargaining contracts. He also blamed the groups for preventing charter school legislation from passing the Democratic-controlled House, despite charter schools being a cornerstone of federal education reforms.

Williams said it may be time to dissolve the Jefferson County School Board for those reasons. The board is elected by voters, and dissolving it would allow the mayor of Louisville to appoint a superintendent for the system. Williams claims the local school board is controlled by the teacher unions.

Currently, the board picks its superintendent, a process it recently completed.

During his run for mayor in 2010, Democratic Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer refused to participate in debate about problems surrounding Jefferson County Public Schools. He deferred to the school board and said voters deserve the best education possible for their children.

-Reporting and video production by Kenny Colston

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