Thursday, April 20, 2000

Patton to veto lawmaker boost

BY Patrick Crowley and The Associated Press
The Cincinnati Enquirer and The Associated Press

        COVINGTON — Gov. Paul Patton will veto a bill that increases legislators' pensions because “somebody tried to sneak it through” during the General Assembly's final hours, the governor said during a local appearance Wednesday.

        Mr. Patton said he is not against an increase in lawmakers' retirement benefits but is against “the way it was done.”

        “What concerns me is the fact that it was put in at the last hour and almost nobody knew what they were voting on,” Mr. Patton said follow ing a speech he gave to Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce members.

        “Some members of the General Assembly have called me to say that while they think they do need more compensation, they are offended somebody tried to sneak it through,” he said.

        Because the 2000 General Assembly session ended last week, lawmakers cannot return to Frankfort to overturn the governor's veto.

        The bill, sponsored by Rep. Adrian Arnold, D-Mount Sterling, was a fairly routine measure sought by the state's retirement program, of which he is a board member. It started out as a way to create a medical benefits plan for judicial and legislative retirees who live outside Kentucky and cannot participate in the regular health care plan.

        But at the insistence of Sen. Albert Robinson, R-London, a provision was added to the bill that seems to direct that all benefits accrued under the plan should be subject to an annual cost-of-living adjustment.

        The bill passed March 29, the last day of the regular session before a long recess.

        Sen. Katie Stine, R-Fort Thomas, said she originally voted for the bill but then had her vote changed when she learned about the benefit increase.

        “I didn't catch what the bill did the first time I read it, it was written so obscurely,” Mrs. Stine said Wednesday. “It's not a huge increase, but I try real hard not to feather my own nest.”

        Sen. Jack Westwood, R-Erlanger, also admitted some confusion over the bill.

        “My understanding (is) it was originally on the retirement system for state employees,” Mr. Westwood said. “But I guess a lot of people weren't sure what was in this bill. It gets hectic in those final days and hours.”

        Mr. Westwood said that while “it's never popular to raise pay and benefits” he would not automatically oppose an increase in lawmakers' benefits.

        “It is difficult to sometimes attract the kind of legislators we need because of the pay and the benefits,” he said. “There really are two sides to this issue.”

        Even the director of the legislative retirement program was uncertain of the addition's exact meaning.

        “I really don't know. I don't have an answer to your question because I don't have an answer for myself at this point,” said Donna Stockton-Early, director of the retirement program for judges and legislators.

        Benefits are earned differently, based on when individuals were elected to the legislature and how long they serve.

        Mr. Patton said earlier in the week that the bill could be construed to almost double legislative retirement benefits.


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