Senate blows the whistle on the session, leaving Medicaid at an impasse; Beshear says a special session will start Monday

By Al Cross
Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues

The state Senate is forcing an early end to the Kentucky General Assembly’s regular session today, without fixing the budget gap in the Medicaid program for the poor and disabled. Even as legislators were still meeting, Gov. Steve Beshear said he would call a special session for Monday on the issue, and said Medicaid providers would get letters warning them that their Medicaid reimbursements could be cut 30 percent.

Thus did the Democratic governor raise the ante in a game where the stakes had already been raised by his likely opponent in the general election, Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville. Doctors are major campaign contributors, but tend to give to Republicans, and they can be a potent lobbying force.

Beshear wants to move money from next year’s Medicaid budget to this year’s, which would pick up extra federal matching funds, and institute managed-care plans to save money in the fiscal year that begins July 1. Williams says Beshear has not proven that enough can be saved, and warns that the governor’s plan will leave the state in much bigger budget trouble a year from now, early in the next gubernatorial term.

Williams, with two opponents in the May 17 Republican primary who have questioned his history on taxes, spending and debt, wants to meet the Medicaid deficit by with across-the-board cuts that would affect education — a spending area that Beshear has left virtually untouched during a series of budget cuts.

Williams has often been a friend to education, but is at odds with the state and Jefferson County teachers’ unions. Those groups are Kentucky’s most powerful public-employee unions, a sector that Republicans in several other states have targeted in efforts to cut spending. For years, Williams has tried to change the state pension system from a defined-benefits plan to a defined-contribution plan.

Williams says ending the session early, without a recess and return to reconsider any bills vetoed by Beshear, will save hundreds of thousands of dollars, more than the likely cost of a special session. For coverage from the Lexington Herald-Leader, click here; from The Courier-Journal, here.

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