Battle for Kentucky House escalates over pensions, pressure
FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) —
The battle for the last legislative chamber in the South still controlled by Democrats escalated over the weekend as Republicans announced they would boycott a special meeting this week, while the House Speaker publicly threatened to impeach the state’s Republican governor.
Kentucky Democrats are a 53-47 majority in the state House of Representatives, having solidified their numbers by winning three out of four special elections in the spring. But Republicans are mounting a strong challenge in races across the state this fall, looking to pick up four seats to claim their first majority since 1920.
Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo called a special meeting of the House on Tuesday to discuss the state’s struggling public pension systems, a complex topic that has become a campaign issue because it covers the retirement accounts of hundreds of thousands of state workers and public school teachers.
Monday, House Minority floor leader Jeff Hoover announced Republicans would boycott the meeting, and accused Stumbo of using the meeting to "trick Kentucky taxpayers into paying for his members to attend a caucus fundraiser."
The Central Kentucky Democratic Caucus has scheduled a fundraiser for Tuesday in Lexington, about 30 miles southeast of Frankfort, the state capital. State lawmakers get $188.22 for every day they work, plus mileage. Stumbo has said lawmakers who attend Tuesday’s meeting will be paid.
"I think it is disgusting, disingenuous, and I will not be a part of his charade," Hoover said in a news release.
In a news release, Stumbo did not respond to Hoover’s comments about the fundraiser. But he did criticize Hoover for not attending a "non-partisan discussion." Stumbo spokesman Brian Wilkerson said Tuesday’s meeting was solely to answer questions about the public pension systems and Republican Gov. Matt Bevin’s proposal to overhaul the state’s Medicaid system.
"There is no correlation between this and any other activity," he said.
On Saturday, Stumbo threatened to impeach Bevin based on Democratic state Rep. Russ Meyer’s comments that Bevin used state road projects as leverage to in an attempt to convince Meyer to switch parties. Meyer’s comments were reported by the news service for Community Newspaper Holdings, Inc.
"If these allegations are true, these acts are criminal in nature and in my judgment are an impeachable offense," Stumbo wrote on his Twitter account .
Stumbo did not return calls seeking comment. But a spokesman confirmed the tweets were accurate. Any impeachment effort would be unlikely to succeed because the state Senate, which would have to convict Bevin, is controlled by Republicans.
Bevin spokeswoman Jessica Ditto said Stumbo’s comments were "desperate."
"It’s the beginning of silly season and a desperate attempt to change the subject from the House Democrats’ failed leadership on our public pensions and the out of control health care costs," Ditto said.
The Bevin administration did recently delay a road project in Meyer’s district. Transportation Cabinet officials said they did not secure the land for the project before a deadline to start construction and, as a result, had to pay a $625,000 fine to the contractor. That fine and deadline were set in a contract awarded by the administration of former Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear, according to The Courier-Journal.
Bevin’s office said the Beshear administration rushed the contract through without securing the land. But Beshear blamed Bevin for stopping work on the project.
Meyer did not return a call to his office seeking comment. Democratic state Rep. Kevin Sinnette has also accused Bevin of pressuring him to switch parties, but Bevin has called Sinnette’s story "an absolute lie."
House and Senate leaders have battled over the state’s pension system for years. Democrats under Stumbo’s leadership have pushed to borrow $3.3 billion as a temporary fix for the teacher’s retirement system, but that proposal has been blocked by Senate Republicans because they worry it would add to the state’s debt.
Republicans tried to pass a bill requiring the pension systems to disclose more information about itself while giving the governor more control, but it was blocked by House Democrats. Bevin ended up implementing some of the bill’s provisions via executive order.