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Tapp, Montell back special session...if

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By Nathan L. McBroom

Both state Sen. Gary Tapp and state Rep. Brad Montell said they would support a special called session of the state legislature -- if the Senate and House first work out a deal to address the state pension plan before the lawmakers reconvened in Frankfort.

A week and a half after the end of the regular legislative session, Gov. Steve Beshear and state lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have voiced a need for a special session to address the $26 billion deficit in the state's retirement system.

The state's pension plan currently covers close to 445,000 people. And if left alone, the retirement system could go bankrupt within 10 years - possibly sooner.

Beshear said he would not call a special session unless lawmakers come to a consensus on how to address the problem before the session began.

That, Montell said, was wise. Without reaching consensus, the special session could be a waste of time and money, Montell said.

Special legislative sessions are estimated to cost the government between $50,000 to $60,000 a day. The quickest that lawmakers could convene and address the pension plan would be five days, Montell said.

Tapp said the pension plan needs to be addressed quickly.

"The longer we put it off the more that it's going to hurt taxpayers," he said.

Tapp said if a special session is called, the only item for discussion should be the pension plan.

Both Tapp and Montell were disappointed that the legislature did not address the problem with the retirement system during the regular session. The last day of the regular session, the Senate passed a bill that addressed the pension plan. Despite a last minute effort in the House, Montell said the leadership "couldn't hold it together."

Montell said some of the options that the legislature needs to consider include: lengthening the required years of service, increasing the participation cost for health care and extending the time before employees are considered to be fully vested.

He said with a large number of state employees expected to retire this year and many new hires to follow, the legislature needs to act quickly.

Beshear has not yet announced if or when a special session will be called.

Along with failing to address the pension plan, Montell said he would have liked to have given state workers higher than the 1 percent raise that they received.

Montell said rumors that legislators gave themselves a 5 percent raise are not true. Lawmakers, like teachers and all other state workers, only received a 1 percent raise, he said.

When it comes to the budget, Tapp and Montell both said they would rather cut state spending rather than raise taxes.

While some were hit harder than others, a majority of state agencies received close to a 3 percent cut to their general budget.

John David Myles, Family Court Judge, said the cuts will take away state-funded counselors who assist the court's public advocates. He said this change will seriously impede the speed with which cases are processed.

County Judge-Executive Rob Rothenburger said the county jail will experience a 3 percent in its state allocation for the next fiscal year. He said he is not yet sure how the cuts will affect the jail.

Rothenburger also said the county will miss not receiving state money for transportation and roadway projects. For the past four years the county has received funds to do such projects on Rockbridge Road and the Olive Branch Bridge.

While the county missed out on money for roadways, it did receive a health allocation for water and sewer projects. Over the next two years, Shelby County will receive $2.7 million to spend on projects such as a water pipeline from Jefferson County and a water tank in Todd's Point.

Montell said with such a tight budget the county was fortunate to have received that much funding.