Posts Tagged ‘Brent Yonts’

Key Senate Leader Ponders Session Sabotage

Monday, March 4th, 2013

Consternation over public employee pension reform reached the pinnacle of political posturing last week — Senate Republicans pushed back against the House Democrats’ proposal conjoined to a funding idea that expands lottery gaming options and instant racing to help chip away at the billions in the system’s unfunded liabilities.

On Wednesday of last week, the House democrats’ version of public pension reform advanced from the State House on a party line vote. Representative Brent Yonts shepherded the House committee substitute to Senate Bill 2. Yonts’ plan keeps the traditional, defined benefit plans for new hires as opposed to a hybrid plan with a 401-K style approach preferred by Senate Republican floor leader Damon Thayer. It also provides a mechanism to retain the cost of living adjustments so long as they can be paid for — something that Senator Thayer sought to repeal.

The other bugaboo is a plan by House Speaker Greg Stumbo, embodied in House Bill 416, which would expand lottery games and instant racing. On the House floor Wednesday, the Speaker tried to persuade members to vote for the funding idea in order to dodge a special session later.

Republican Minority Floor Leader Jeff Hoover said lawmakers were being dealt a bad hand with House Speaker Greg Stumbo’s plan. The House GOP caucus believes there’s another way the issue can be approached, and that’s through a reduction in government spending by way of slicing personal service contracts and the number of executive branch employees.

On Wednesday, Republican Floor Leader Hoover proposed those spending reduction ideas to be adopted in a floor amendment he offered up, but it was rejected.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo’s House Bill 416 that would expand lottery options to include games like Keno and tax revenues from instant racing to help the cash-poor pension fund was narrowly approved 52 to 47. Senate Republicans rebuked the plan, asserting the rule that during odd-year, 30-day sessions, a measure dealing with appropriations and revenue must earn a three-fifths, or supermajority of votes from each chamber; 60 in the House and 23 in the Senate. It’s a rule Stumbo, a lawyer, interpreted to apply only to a measure’s “final” passage.

Senate Republicans soundly rejected House Democrats’ ideas on tackling the public pension crisis on Thursday. And, Senate Republican floor leader Damon Thayer, issued blistering criticism, admonishing the lower chamber Democrats for dismissing key recommendations of a year-long task force, and being too preoccupied with an ill-conceived pension funding idea rather than focus on its structural maladies.

Senator Thayer expressed optimism Thursday that key leaders in both chambers can reconcile their differences on the public pension plan. But, media reports quickly circulated Speaker Stumbo’s resistance to further negotiations on the matter in the waning days of the session. In a volley of responses and denouncements on the Senate floor on Friday, Senator Thayer expressed an aversion to special sessions and hinted that the intransigence of the House might be part of a conspiracy to force a special session.

Senate President Bob Stivers relinquished his gavel and retreated to his floor seat. He claimed he’s been careful to preside over the chamber in a new chapter devoid of political gamesmanship. In a reference to former Senate President David Williams, Stivers said of his friend, “the bully of Burkesville is not here anymore.”


Today marks day 23 of the 30-day session. Please interject your own predictions and opinions here, and post them if you’re so inclined.

Watch “Legislative Update” each weeknight during the session at 11pmET on KET and follow @ReneeKET on Twitter for constant updates.

Pension Pickle Presents Prickly Propositions

Wednesday, February 27th, 2013

Try saying that three times. Now try to imagine something harder: getting factions and stakeholders on one accord – to say nothing of the politicians themselves. But, such is the case with most major pieces of legislation of any consequence. So, let me get to this one.

On Tuesday, the chair of the House State Government Committee offered up a competing plan for the cash-poor public employee pension system although the Senate already approved a plan by a 33 to 5 vote earlier this month.

Muhlenberg County lawyer Brent Yonts keeps the traditional, defined benefit plans for new hires as opposed to a hybrid plan proposed by Senate Republican floor leader Damon Thayer that mimics a 401-K like method. Yonts’ bill demands that the General Assembly pay the actuarially-required contribution to the pension system beginning in fiscal year 2014, and then would be prohibited from suspending that statute. In addition, the General Assembly could alter future benefits for new hires. It also provides a mechanism to keep the cost of living adjustments (COLAs) Senator Thayer had wanted to repeal. In the clip below, Rep. Yonts laid out the conditions for how the COLA’s would work:

Shelbyville Republican Brad Montell complained about the lack of an actuarial analysis of Yonts’ plan and chastised Yonts for dissing key recommendations from a year-long task force on public pensions and a high-ranking Senator who embraced those ideas.

As votes were cast, most Republicans declined to vote. Campbellsville Republican Jon Carney echoed the sentiments of Brad Montell. Democrat Derrick Graham, who has a heavy constituency of state workers, was quick to rebut.

The House committee version of Senate Bill 2 was approved by the House State Government committee with 17 yes votes, 1 no vote, and 10 passes by Republicans Tuesday afternoon.

Now on to the House Democrats’ proposal to create a funding stream to deal with the $30 billion unfunded liability in the public employee pension systems. It comes by way of House Bill 416 by House Speaker Greg Stumbo. The Speaker’s plan expands lottery options to include games like Keno and instant racing. The Speaker ditched the well-publicized idea of applying the 6-percent sales tax to lottery tickets after conversations with Kentucky Lottery officials determined that move would harm game sales. Representative Stumbo says existing statutory authority allows for the expansion of lottery offerings like online gaming, Keno and instant racing.

The Speaker insisted that Lottery proceeds would maintain commitments to the KEES scholarship fund and other initiatives and would be held harmless and allowed two-percent growth under the proposal. Money over and above that would be put into a newly created pension sustainability trust fund. Stumbo says $300 million were wagered through instant or historical racing machines in Kentucky from September 2011 through December 2012, and he explains how tax receipts in excess of that amount would be dedicated to the new pension fund.

The House Appropriations and Revenue committee advanced the speaker’s bill without opposition, although the Republican members on the panel did not cast votes.

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And, follow @ReneeKET on Twitter throughout the day for constant updates. Visit the legislative archives of previous meetings and nightly reports at ket.org/legislature.


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