Recent Kentucky governors have tended to avoid calling special sessions of the General Assembly unless House and Senate leaders were in agreement on the outcome of those sessions.
With an agreement in place, a special session can be as brief as five days — the minimum time it takes for a bill to win approval of both legislative chambers. Without an agreement, a special session can go on indefinitely — at a cost to taxpayers of about $68,000 a day, seven days a week.
No agreement is in place for the special session that begins Monday. Normally, that would be reason to chastise Gov. Steve Beshear for calling lawmakers back to Frankfort so soon after they failed to do their job in this year's regular session. But the current situation is far from normal.
In drafting the current two-year state budget, legislative leaders assumed a larger federal Medicaid handout than the help the state ultimately received. As a result, there is a substantial hole in the Medicaid budget for this fiscal year, which ends in less than four months.
Last fall, Beshear proposed a viable solution: Transfer $116.5 million from the Medicaid budget for next fiscal year into the current spending plan, and fill the void in next year's budget with savings generated by moving the Medicaid program from a "fee for services" model to a "managed care" approach.
Simple. Doable. Workable. And acceptable to an overwhelming bipartisan majority of the House in the regular General Assembly session that came to an inglorious end Wednesday.
In the Senate, however, this Medicaid fix was transformed into a politicized issue President David Williams, a gubernatorial wannabe, used to blast Beshear for lacking leadership, even though the budget hole was of legislative leaders' own making due to their overly rosy assumption about a federal handout.
Williams also used the issue to try to justify unnecessary across-the-board spending cuts he hoped would make the Tea Party movement forget his long record as a legislative spendthrift.
When House Democrats refused to bow to the will of Williams and his Republican minions in the Senate, he effectively shut down the regular session early, leaving the issue of the Medicaid budget unresolved. Which brings us back to Beshear calling a special session with no agreement between the two chambers' leaders in place.
Without the transfer of funds Beshear proposed, the only way to make the Medicaid budget balance when this fiscal year ends June 30 is to cut reimbursements to health care providers. Beshear said last week the reduction in reimbursements — by as much as 30 percent — would begin April 1 if the fund transfer isn't approved in the special session.
So, Beshear called the session quickly and with no agreement in place because the administration needs to know quickly if Williams is going to continue abdicating the leadership responsibilities of his current position in his pursuit of higher office.
If he does continue his cynical political posturing on this issue, the welfare of Kentucky Medicaid recipients will be put at risk because of the unnecessary pain health care providers across the state will start to feel April 1.