The Republican leaders now running Kentucky have a message for taxpayers: We will tell you what we want you to know, when we want you to know it, because we’re in charge.
Gov. Matt Bevin, a Republican insisted again Thursday that he will call the General Assembly into special session sometime in December. He still hopes to ram through a flawed and unpopular public employee pension “reform” plan without any Democratic support even though House Republicans are in chaos amid a sex scandal.
Bevin made his comments on a conservative talk radio show out of Huntington, W.Va. Bevin seems to prefer talking to radio hosts because he knows they won’t ask him any hard questions. Or he talks to himself on Facebook Live. It’s one more way to avoid public accountability.
Bevin wouldn’t say when he might call his special session, which would have to take place in the next couple of weeks and would have to last at least a week. Never mind that legislators begin their regular session Jan. 3, and a special session would cost taxpayers an extra $65,000 a day.
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“My intention is to get it done and get it done soon,” Bevin told radio host Tom Roten of WVHU. “I have to make sure we have ‘I’s’ dotted and ‘T’s’ crossed.”
That is putting it mildly.
On Oct. 18, Bevin unveiled a 505-page draft bill to take secure, defined-benefit retirement plans away from teachers and most other state workers and replace them with 401(k)-style defined-contribution plans.
Predictably, Bevin’s plan sparked statewide outrage that has not gone unnoticed by legislators interested in re-election. Even worse, Bevin’s numbers go in the wrong direction.
The Teachers’ Retirement System of Kentucky released an actuarial analysis showing that Bevin’s draft bill would cost $4.4 billion more over 20 years than maintaining the current pension system with full funding.
After that came out, the administration blocked the release of a similar analysis for the Kentucky Retirement Systems and asked for a do-over of the teachers’ analysis. That hardly inspired confidence in Bevin’s plan, among either taxpayers or their Republican representatives.
So, here we have a secret Republican pension bill and a secret Republican plan for rushing it into law at a taxpayer cost of at least $325,000. Don’t expect any Democrats to vote for this scheme, especially because Bevin has yet to say how he proposes to solve the real problem: Finding tens of billions of dollars to fund current pension obligations.
Then there is the House Republican sex scandal. Jeff Hoover stepped down as speaker Nov. 5 after the Courier Journal reported that he had secretly settled sexual harassment claims. Three other Republican lawmakers also settled sexual harassment claims and were stripped of their committee chairmanships.
Bevin has demanded that the four Republicans resign; so far, they have refused. New allegations emerged Thursday against one of them, Rep. Michael Meredith of Oakland. The daughter of another Republican representative has accused him of sending her inappropriate messages while she worked in the governor’s office.
Initially, House Republicans tried to control the investigation by directing the Legislative Research Commission to hire the law firm Middleton Reutlinger “to conduct a human resources investigation of, and provide legal advice to, the House Republican caucus.” That contract, obtained by the Herald-Leader via the Open Records Act, showed that investigation could cost taxpayers as much as $50,000. But some GOP staffers refused to cooperate.
After getting a preliminary report Friday, House Speaker Pro Tempore David Osborne did the right thing and forwarded the matter to the Legislative Ethics Commission, which has subpoena power, to finish the investigation.
“There is still information we don’t have, and we believe the Ethics Commission can and should get it to give the people of Kentucky a full and complete picture of what happened,” Osborne said.
So it looks as if there will be some transparency on the sex scandal. Now, if only we could get some on the pension bill, a much more important issue with far-reaching implications.
This isn’t just a Republican phenomenon. During most of the 20th century, when Democrats had a lock on power in Kentucky, there was a similar shortage of transparency, especially when it came to budget-making and spending decisions.
But from 2000 until 2016, Democrats controlled the House, and Republicans controlled the Senate. In 12 of those years, a Democrat was governor. A Republican was governor for four. They had to talk to each other, and they to work with each other, if they wanted to get anything done. Most importantly, they couldn’t keep taxpayers in the dark so much.