Kentucky Senate adjourns after symbolic veto-override vote

bmusgrave@herald-leader.comApril 7, 2011 

FRANKFORT — The state Senate cast symbolic votes Wednesday to overturn 19 vetoes issued by Gov. Steve Beshear in House Bill 1, which plugs a hole in the state Medicaid budget. The Senate also voted to adjourn the special legislative session.

The veto-override votes are moot. The Democratic House adjourned March 24 sine die, a parliamentary move that signaled the end of its participation in a special legislative session called March 14. It takes both chambers to override a veto.

Senate Democrats on Wednesday asked why Senate Republicans were wasting time when the veto overrides did not matter. There are still questions about how much it will cost taxpayers for the special legislative session and whether lawmakers will be paid for 13 days when they were not at the Capitol.

"This is political theater," said Sen. Kathy Stein, D-Lexington. "It's all for naught."

Senate Republicans replied that the House should have returned and preserved its constitutional duty to override Beshear's vetoes of HB 1.

Some Senate Republicans said that they do not think Beshear can manage state government and that the vetoes are necessary to show the public that the senators think their original plan — cutting more than $100 million from state agencies — was better than Beshear's proposal of moving money in the two-year budget and banking on savings.

"I do not trust him based on his performance," said Sen. Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green.

Sen. Walter Blevins, D-Morehead, countered that that the hole in the Medicaid budget was caused in part because the legislature had counted on $100 million in additional federal funds in the Medicaid program that never materialized.

"That created the problem. That's why we're here," Blevins said. "The governor has done a remarkable job under the circumstances."

Beshear called the special session after the two chambers could not agree during the regular session on a fix for the Medicaid budget.

The House passed the Senate's version of HB 1 on March 24 knowing that Beshear was going to veto most of the $100 million in additional cuts the Senate's version contained.

HB 1 allows Beshear to move $166 million in the Medicaid budget from next fiscal year to the current fiscal year. Beshear also vetoed a series of requirements that include caps on the amount of debt he can restructure, restrictions on the use of furloughs of state employees, and reporting requirements for savings in the Medicaid program.

Beshear has said he can generate enough savings next fiscal year in the Medicaid program to make up for the $166 million he is using this fiscal year. Part of those savings will be generated by starting a series of managed care plans in the health care program for the poor and disabled by July 1, the beginning of the next fiscal year.

Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, said the Beshear administration has not issued requests for proposals for those managed care contracts. Officials with the Cabinet for Health and Family Services had said those proposal requests to manage care in the $6.5 billion health care program would be issued by April 1.

Beshear said Wednesday that the cabinet has issued its notice of intent to publish those requests for proposals and that the cabinet is on track to meet its deadlines.

There are still questions about whether legislators will be paid from March 24 through Wednesday, the roughly 13 days the House and Senate were in recess.

Williams has proposed that lawmakers agree to suspend their pay during that time. But House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, has said there are legal questions surrounding legislative pay. The constitution prohibits lawmakers from altering their pay during a legislative session.

Beshear blasted the Senate Wednesday for wasting taxpayer money.

"They shouldn't get paid more than $600,000 for doing absolutely nothing — they should have gone home on March 24 and stopped wasting the taxpayers' dollars," Beshear said.

Robert Sherman, the director of the Legislative Research Commission, said Tuesday that no lawmaker has been paid for days after March 25.

"No senator will receive pay," Williams said Wednesday. Even if checks are issued to senators, Williams said, he will withhold future pay so taxpayers will not be footing the bill for the veto period.

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