FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Gov. Steve Beshear says he would consider calling a special session if lawmakers can agree beforehand on a way to strengthen the state's financially troubled pension system
for public employees.
"In the next few days, I'm going to have some conversations with the legislative leaders on the pension issue," Beshear said Friday. "The only way that I am willing to call a special session is if they get their acts together, and sit down with us, and we come up with an agreed-upon piece of legislation."
Lawmakers were unable to agree on a solution before they adjourned the 2008 regular session earlier this week. Without an overhaul, the state retirement system faces financial jeopardy as more employees retire. Despite the dire forecast, House and Senate leaders adjourned without an agreement.
Beshear said he will not call a special session unless legislation leaders "stand up ahead of time and say we will support this and we will pass this." The governor has become increasingly critical of the legislature, saying partisan politics had generated "dysfunction" between the Democratic-controlled House and the GOP-controlled Senate.
"I'm not going to waste the taxpayers' money calling a special session just so we can come up and argue about it again," Beshear said. "We can settle all those arguments now. And assuming that we
can settle those arguments, then I'm willing to call them back in for a minimum amount of time."
Sen. Damon Thayer has said revamping the retirement system is
crucial to avoid a future "fiscal calamity." House and Senate lawmakers pushed differing plans aimed at dealing with a potential $26.6 billion shortfall.
Kentucky's state retirement system covers more than 445,000
people, including state and county employees and public school teachers.
Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, had urged Beshear to call a special session to deal with the pension problems. Williams and other lawmakers said they had an agreement on a plan that cleared the Senate on the legislature's final night but stalled in the House.
"We already reached an agreement," Williams said. "Everybody knows we reached an agreement."
Beshear had previously said the issue can wait until next year's
regular legislative session, which begins in January. He said he doesn't want to spend taxpayer money on a special session, which costs some $60,000 a day, if partisan politics stand in the way of a solution.
House Majority Whip Rob Wilkey, D-Scottsville, said he wondered
whether it would be more efficient financially for lawmakers to pass the proposed pension fix now or wait until the legislature returns in January.
"It'll cost $300,000 in a five-day session to do that," Wilkey said. "How much can you save by passing it now instead of January."
House Majority Caucus Chairman Charlie Hoffman, D-Georgetown,
said the complexity of the pension problems warrants further study to find the best solution, and such a study could be time consuming.
"I would urge the governor to proceed with caution, and to talk to the interested stake-holder groups before rushing into something without proper study," Hoffman said.
Hoffman said he was disheartened that lawmakers were unable to
agree on a way to revamp the pension system. But he said he preferred taking no action to taking the wrong action.
"I think we did the right thing in leaving Frankfort without a bill," he said.
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)