The Legislature is able to act independently of the Governor. In the case of a special called legislative session, the Governor calls the session and sets the agenda. It is up to the Legislature to decide whether they will pass any proposed legislation during that session. In this case, the Governor called for a special session to deal with public pensions. There have been two pension bills filed, but there has also been a resolution filed to gavel out of the session immediately without taking any action on those bills. If that resolution is passed, the legislature would adjourn immediately, and there would be no action taken on those bills at this time. It would then be up to the bills’ sponsor whether or not to refile those bills during the regular legislative session in January.
There is bipartisan support for gaveling out without passing any legislation during the special session. The Courier-Journal reported yesterday that Representatives Rocky Adkins (D) and Jeff Hoover (R) are introducing a joint resolution to gavel out of the session without taking any legislative action. Both representatives cite concerns about the short notice legislators were given in order to report to the session. Representative Adkins stated, “Neither I nor any member of the House Democratic Caucus was consulted or even given a courtesy call that this was happening, and many of our members are unable to make it tonight. . . this is nothing more than a continued mockery of the legislative process and an attempt to silence the public.” Representative Hover questions the necessity of a special session so close to the start of the regular session: “It’s typical Matt Bevin. He didn’t get his way. And his temper tantrum is disrespectful of the legislature,” Hoover said. It is reasonable to assume that all of the House Democrats and at least some of the House Republicans will follow Adkins’ and Hoovers’ lead.
Special sessions are an expensive use of taxpayer money. The estimated cost of a special session to the taxpayers is $65K per day. Special sessions last five days, for a total cost of $325K. The regular legislative session will begin on January 8, 2019. That’s only three weeks away. If the legislature were to gavel out today, that would save taxpayers approximately $195K. To put that into perspective, the average teacher salary in Kentucky is $48K. Most classified employees in Kentucky make less than half of that. It is better to spend our money on things that will really help children rather than wasting it on a special session.
Passing legislation now during a special session bypasses the will of the voters. The November elections were just over a month ago. During that election, voters chose to vote out a number of incumbent legislators and replace them with education-friendly candidates. Republicans lost a total of two House seats in that election. Those newly elected legislators do not take office until January, and will not be seated during this special session. By calling a session now, Governor Bevin has unilaterally chosen 2018’s lame duck assembly to try to pass pension legislation. This is likely because of constitutional rules which designate even numbered session years as “budget years”, which require a smaller majority to pass budget-related legislation. When the legislature reconvenes for its regular session in January, our newly elected legislators will have full decision-making authority, and it will be more difficult for the Governor to pass legislation making structural changes to the pension systems.
Structural changes to the public pension system will have a negligible effect on funding levels. In the push to pass pension legislation during the 2018 legislative session, the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy calculated that the proposed bill would only save taxpayers less than one percent over the next 30 years, and Governor Bevin himself has criticized the bill based on this as fact. Structural changes which strip away benefits from public servants and retirees do not increase pension funding levels. The only way to increase pension funding levels is to invest more money in the system. The biennial budget passed by the 2018 General Assembly did just that by fully funding the Actuarially Required Contribution (ARC) to the pension systems. Since the state started making its full ARC payments three years ago, TRS funding levels have gone up every year – WITHOUT STRUCTURAL CHANGES.
House Republican leadership has already tainted the legislative process by not following constitutional rules during the special session. Last night there was a resolution in the House to change their normal procedures and waive the three day period between the time a bill is introduced and the time the legislature is allowed to vote on it. This three day period is required by our Constitution. In spite of objections from Democrats on the floor (thank you Rocky Adkins, for speaking against the resolution), Speaker Osborne declared the resolution passed without actually holding a vote. If this sounds familiar to you, it is likely because the tactic of rushing bills through an abbreviated process is the same reason why the Kentucky Supreme Court threw out Senate Bill 151 (the Sewage Bill) on Constitutional grounds last week.