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$600k tab for Ky lawmakers to do nothing

by WHAS11


Posted on March 29, 2011 at 7:10 AM

Updated Tuesday, Mar 29 at 7:36 AM

(WHAS11)-  Kentucky taxpayers will pay more than $600,000 for lawmakers to do nothing over the next nine days.

When Governor Steve Beshear (D) vetoed most of the provisions in the Medicaid budget fix, that included a provision that would have done away with legislator pay during the interim between the governor's vetoes and the veto override day.

And, because Senate President David Williams (R-Burkesville) is refusing to join the House in  adjourning early and forfeiting the veto override day, legislators are set to paid everyday through the Senate reconvening on April 6.

The state is withholding pay until the session is officially over.

"It's just a waste of money," said House Speaker Greg Stumbo (D-Prestonsburg)

At about $63,689 a day, the 11 days of inactivity and one veto override day will cost Kentucky taxpayers about $760,000.  In the Medicaid budget fix sent to the governor, lawmakers voted not to be paid for the off days.

"We're not meeting during these days. We're not in session," argued Williams.

"I think it's conflict with Kentucky's constitution," countered Beshear, "There's a provision that says the legislature can't change its pay and affect themselves during the same session."

That's for the courts and not for the governor to decide, Williams contends.

"If they want to litigate it, let them take it to Franklin Circuit Court if one of the House members wants to sue to get their pay," Williams said.

To override Beshear's veto, both the House and Senate would have to agree, but the House has no plans on coming back. 

“The entire General Assembly cannot adjourn in final form until the Senate follows the House action," said Stumbo in a statement, "Senate leadership has been here long enough to understand this rule, which has been followed for over 200 years in our state."

“By failing in this simple duty," Stumbo continued, "the Senate is costing taxpayers $65,000 a day.  I again encourage them to call themselves together to adjourn sine die and save this totally needless expense.”

"They might as well never meet again," Williams snapped, "They might as well give a blank check and a credit card to the governor of the Commonwealth of Kentucky."

The Senate could also stop payment by adjourning and going home, but the Republican majority does not want to give up the chance to override the vetoes.

"Well, if they're not going to do that," Stumbo said to reporters on Friday, "then they're probably going to be the ones you're going to blame for costing the taxpayers $65,000 a day, I would assume, for no reason."

The governor says he has a solution - lawmakers still get paid, but they pay it back.

"Tthey can do just like I do.  Every month, I write a check for ten percent of my salary back to the Commonwealth and they can certainly write a check back the Commonwealth if they get any checks after March 24.  And they ought to step up and do that," Beshear said.

Yet, Social Security withholding and other taxes complicate Beshear's pitch.

"The state is still going to pay out the $64,000," explained Sen. Jimmy Higdon (R-Lebanon), "I don't know how many of the 138 legislators will donate their money back to somebody else or give it back to the state, but only a small portion of it will come back."

"And I'll do something," Higdon continued, "I will not keep the $188 a day that I'm paid.  I'll donate it to somebody. I haven't made that decision yet.  But again, the governor should not have vetoed that portion of the legislation."

Lebanon Democrat, Rep. Terry Mills said he  would consult with "some of my other legislative friends."

"I'm not going to say for sure what I'm going to do, but I'll talk to some other people and analyze the situation. And, I don't want to be paid when I'm not working," Mills said.

Meanwhile, House Republican Floor Leader Jeff Hoover is upset that the bipartisan compromise to address the Medicaid shortfall was undermined by the legislative trick.

“The items vetoed by Governor Beshear were all critical components of the compromise bill passed by the House on a 94-4 vote,” Hoover (R-Jamestown) said in a statement,  “The Governor has clearly snubbed his nose at the bipartisan effort and overwhelming consensus of the House in passing the compromise on House Bill 1.  The Governor’s actions are disturbing and we, as a House, need to hold him accountable.”