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.
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