Ky. legislature adjourns, but Beshear orders them back on Monday

Medicaid budget, dropout age will be considered

bmusgrave@herald-leader.com, jbrammer@herald-leader.comMarch 10, 2011 

Gov. Steve Beshear spoke during a March news conference in Frankfort.

ED REINKE | ASSOCIATED PRESS

FRANKFORT — Gov. Steve Beshear has recalled state lawmakers to Frankfort on Monday for a special session to address a hole in the Medicaid budget and consider raising the dropout age from 16 to 18.

Speaking at a Capitol news conference, Beshear said letters notifying hospitals and health care providers of a possible 30 percent cut to Medicaid payments will be sent by the end of this week. The cuts would take effect April 1 if legislators do not come up with a fix for the Medicaid budget.

Beshear said taxpayers should be angry that a special legislative session is needed.

"The people of this state ought to be outraged by this," he said. "Outraged by the fact that I have to call a special session to get a job done that should have been done over the last two months."

He called on Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, and his Republican colleagues to work for free during the special session.

The Democratic governor's decision to call the session came after the Senate convened late Wednesday morning and adjourned just after 6 p.m., a move that ended the 2011 session of the General Assembly.

Wednesday became the 30th work day for lawmakers. State law limits odd-year sessions to 30 days. The final work day had been scheduled for March 21, which would have given lawmakers the chance to override any vetoes made by Beshear.

Williams said the decision to work Wednesday cut 12 days from the legislative schedule, saving taxpayers about $800,000 in salaries and expenses.

He said the Senate will gather Monday for the special session and await a bill from the House, probably by Wednesday.

Williams, who wants to replace Beshear as governor, noted Beshear mentioned him by name in the official call for the special session — a document that outlines what the special session will address. The call says Williams has refused to permit the Senate to vote on legislation that increases the dropout age.

"This is one of the most ridiculous things I've seen in my entire life," Williams said.

"The guy has gone from the sublime to the ridiculous," he said of Beshear, adding that he is "embarrassed for the governor."

Williams said there is no sentiment in the Senate to approve Beshear's proposal to raise the dropout age.

Earlier Wednesday, Beshear laid blame for the Medicaid budget impasse on Williams. Senate Republicans and House Democrats failed to reach an agreement Tuesday night on the budget after two days of negotiations.

"Senator Williams has apparently declared and decided that he has better things to do," Beshear said of Williams' decision to end the legislative session Wednesday rather than continue negotiating with House members during the planned veto recess.

"It is time to hold him accountable," Beshear said. "It is time to remind him of the job he is elected to do."

Beshear warned that if a budget deal isn't inked soon, cuts that could shut down some rural hospitals will have to be made in the Medicaid program, which serves more than 800,000 poor and disabled Kentuckians.

If payments to health care providers are cut, the blame lies directly "at the feet of Sen. David Williams," Beshear said.

Beshear, flanked by Democrats from the House and Senate, said the call does not allow the legislature to use funding from outside the Medicaid program to balance its budget.

The Senate has proposed across-the-board cuts to all agencies to make up for a shortfall in Medicaid, but that option apparently would not be available under Beshear's call.

"I'm sure that all approaches will be discussed," Beshear said when asked if he thought he was limiting possible solutions to the Medicaid budget problem.

A majority of the state's 138 legislators have said they do not support Williams' plan to cut education to shore up Medicaid, Beshear said.

Because of past failures during special sessions, House and Senate leaders generally insist on having an agreement on pending legislation before going into session, a move that minimizes the number of days the legislature meets.

But Beshear said he didn't have time to wait for an agreement to be worked out because providers need to know whether their Medicaid payments are going to be cut.

"We don't have time to do anything else," Beshear said.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said Williams should agree to the House's version of House Bill 305, which included Beshear's original plan to move $166.5 million of the state's Medicaid budget from next fiscal year to this fiscal year.

Republican Senators have said they do not think Beshear can generate $166.5 million in savings he has promised during the second year of the budget. Instead of moving the money, Senate Republicans proposed across-the-board cuts in state government. Education would be spared in the first year but would have some cuts in the second year of the budget.

House Democrats could not agree to spending cuts when there appeared to be no reason for them, particularly cuts to the state's school systems, Stumbo said.

"Just because it's politically correct in some circles to say these days I want to cut government, we're not going to let that happen," Stumbo said. "It's not good government. It's not fair government. It's not well-thought-out government."

If Senate Republicans had approved House Bill 305 on Wednesday, a special legislative session would have been avoided, he said. But the Senate declined to reconsider HB 305 after a tense moment on the floor.

Sen. Tim Shaughnessy, D-Louisville, chastised Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, for not mentioning Beshear by title 10 times during a speech. Thayer referred to Beshear by his first name several times in his floor speech.

Shaughnessy said Kentuckians refer to elected officials by their titles and referred to Thayer as a Yankee.

That provoked Thayer, a native of Michigan, to leave his seat and walk down the aisle to Shaughnessy to tell him "not to impugn my birthplace." They exchanged stares but did not approach each other.

Thayer later said he did not refer to Beshear by title because Beshear did not mention Williams by title.

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