Sunday, April 30, 2000

Kentucky Politics

Pensioner issue won't soon retire

        Don't you just love the Kentucky General Assembly? They left Frankfort two weeks ago swinging and sniping at each other and they're still going at it.

        The latest, but certainly not last, fight is over legislation dealing with the pensions lawmakers receive. There is so much spin going on, it looks like a scene out of Twister. But here are the basics.

        An amendment boosting lawmakers' retirement benefits was quietly attached to a bill that extended the health care coverage that retired judges receive. It was voted on during the session's final hours and easily passed the House and Senate with virtually no debate or discussion.

        A few days after the session, when word leaked that lawmakers voted to increase their pensions, the rhetoric hit the fan.

        Gov. Paul Patton called the move a “back door attempt to increase legislative compensation without the knowledge of the people.”

        Even though the amendment was pushed by a Republican Senator, Albert Robinson of London, the GOP's leadership tried to sprint away from the bill.

        Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, attempted to saddle the Democrats with the bill by accusing them of setting up the Republicans to vote on legislation that probably won't sit too well with most voters.

        “It's the big lie,” Mr. Williams said. “It is my position that this obscure provision was driven by the Democratic caucus.”

        But Mr. Robinson, after distancing himself from the bill, is now saying he was pushing the legislation all along.

        “I don't go anywhere without my ducks in a line,” Mr. Robinson told the Associated Press. Mr. Robinson's revelation leaves Mr. Williams sounding a little like a paranoid Hillary Clinton with his rants about a vast left-wing conspiracy.

        The Senate president, a smart pol who has his eye on the governor's office, also opened himself to stinging attacks from the Democrats, who claim Mr. Williams is telling “a boldfaced lie” by alleging Democratic involvement.

        “Everybody acknowledges that Albert Robinson is the king of retirement legislation,” said Senate Floor Leader David Karem, D-Louisville.

        “For David Williams to come back and try to rewrite history is absurd, obnoxious and offensive and he owes me an apology,” Mr. Karem said.

        The Democrats aren't pure in this incident. Six of them figured out what was going on and voted against the bill in the Senate. And lots of Democrats in both chambers who voted in favor of the bill will have to answer questions, during the next election campaign, about increasing their retirement.

        The Democrats who figured the bill out could have spoken up about it. But they probably plotted to give the GOP members some rope to hang themselves with by letting a vote on the amendment proceed without any debate.

        And here's how the spin will go:

        The GOP padded their own retirement with a late-session legislative maneuver, or they were asleep at the switch and didn't realize they were voting on a measure pushed by one of their own.

        Either way, the Republicans — who have control of the Senate for the first time ever — come out of this episode looking bad.

        Patrick Crowley can be reached at 578-5581 or by e-mail at

        Patrick Crowley covers Kentucky politics for the Enquirer. He can be reached at 578-5581, or (502) 875-7526 in Frankfort.