A long-anticipated special legislative session will convene later this week in an effort to deliver relief for regional universities and quasi-governmental agencies strapped by surging pension costs, Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin announced Monday.
Lawmakers will meet starting at 8 a.m. Friday at the state Capitol in Frankfort, the Republican governor's office said. An official proclamation listing the special session's agenda will be issued later this week, Bevin's office said in a news release.
It takes at least five working days for lawmakers to get a bill through the General Assembly. Lawmakers are expected to meet this Saturday and Monday through Wednesday of next week before wrapping up the session, Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer said.
Bevin spent weeks building support for his proposal to cushion regional universities and quasi-public agencies — which include county health departments and rape crisis centers — from ballooning retirement payments that started this month.
State leaders worry that inaction on the pension issue would strain the quasi-public agencies and lead to some bankruptcies, elimination of staff and loss of critical services for Kentuckians.
In recent weeks, Bevin's team expressed confidence that he had secured enough votes to pass his proposal.
Besides the complexities of the pension issue, another complication for Bevin was trying to schedule a special session amid lawmakers' long-planned vacations and other commitments.
A special legislative session costs taxpayers about $66,000 per day from when the session begins to the day it adjourns.
The governor rolled out his proposal more than two months ago as a replacement for a measure Bevin vetoed in April after the Republican-dominated legislature had ended its regular session.
"This bill has been thoroughly vetted and improved with input from legislators," the Monday release from Bevin's office said. "It is the only fiscally responsible plan that provides our regional universities and quasi-governmental agencies with a plan to a sustainable future."
Although Bevin has the authority to call lawmakers back to the Capitol, he can't force them to vote on anything. But top GOP lawmakers in both chambers signaled Monday that they're ready to take action.
"We are ready to act on this bill in order to provide relief to quasi-governmental agencies, regional universities, their employees and the Kentuckians they serve," House Speaker David Osborne said in a statement.
Asked about the proposal's status in the Senate, Thayer said by phone: "I think we're in good shape there once it passes the House."
Leading House Democrats said Monday that they'll push their own ideas on how to tackle the pension problems.
"Our proposal has been vetted by the governor's chosen actuaries; it's received positive feedback from those affected; and it provides more certainty and stability for the agencies, their employees, the state retirement system and state government," House Democratic leaders said in a statement. "It would be immoral to pass a bill that does anything less."
The governor's proposal, previewed by his team in briefings to lawmakers, would allow the agencies to stay with the Kentucky Retirement Systems at full cost; leave the retirement system by paying a lump sum equal to future projected benefits payments; or buy their way out in installment payments over 30 years. It extends a freeze on pension costs for another year for the regional universities and quasi-public agencies.
Bevin recently agreed to a handful of changes to his proposal in hopes of breaking weeks of gridlock.
One key change pushed back the deadline for affected agencies to decide until April 30, after the conclusion of next year's legislative session. That would give lawmakers time to make changes to deal with any issues that might arise.
Bevin has been wrangling with the politically sensitive pension issue as he seeks reelection this year. The governor is being challenged by his political nemesis, Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear, in the November election.