Politics & Government

Democrats accuse GOP of 'gridlock' after House rejects pension bill

FRANKFORT — The Senate's refusal Thursday to accept part of the House's plan to overhaul the state's pension system will likely mean a special legislative session, House Speaker Greg Stumbo said Thursday.

"Really what the Senate action does is almost guarantee a special session or at least guarantees that the pension issue would not be resolved in this session," Stumbo said.

But Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said Thursday that he would like to see a conference committee — consisting of senators and House members — start meeting early next week to iron out differences and pass a pension bill this legislative session.

Stivers said that the Senate wants to meet "sooner rather than later."

Friday is the 23rd day of the 30-day session.

The Senate rejected on Thursday House Bill 416 — which would generate revenue for the pension system.

House Bill 416 would use money generated from the expansion of lottery games and instant racing — a slots-type game where people bet on historical races — to generate about $100 million that the ailing pension system will need by July 1, 2014.

House Bill 416 was passed Wednesday by the full House 52-47.

But the Senate sent the House a letter on Thursday that said that it could not accept HB 416 because it needed 60 votes required of revenue-generating bills in a 30-day legislative session.

Stumbo and House leaders said Thursday that court cases say 60 votes are needed only for final passage. Final passage occurs when the bill is returned from the Senate and the House votes on the bill, Stumbo argued.

Stivers said there was precedent for rejecting legislation. In 2004, the House refused to consider a bill that the Senate had approved.

But Stumbo said Thursday that refusing to accept bills from the other chamber would only lead to more fighting, finger pointing and frustration.

"It's going to lead to more gridlock," Stumbo said. "I am sorry that they choose to do that. I guess they are following their brethren and their fearless leader Sen. (Mitch) McConnell whose directions are apparently coming down from Washington that gridlock is something good."

The House also passed Wednesday its version of Senate Bill 2, which makes tweaks to the state pension system but is different than the Republican Senate's version of SB 2. The Republican version included moving new hires into a 401(k) hybrid plan and nixing cost-of-living adjustments for new hires.

The Democratic House version of SB 2 keeps the defined benefit plan and only allows for cost-of-living adjustments if there is money to pay for them.

The Senate plan does not include any additional money, which House leaders have equated to an unfunded mandate. Republican senators have countered that additional revenues in coming years would pay for the increased costs to the pension system.