Full of highs and lows, 2017 has been political whiplash for Kentucky Republicans.
At its start, the party celebrated life in the majority after sweeping 2016’s November election, a first for the state House of Representatives since 1921, followed shortly by passage of five Republican-endorsed bills, most notably right-to-work and prevailing wage.
However, what goes up must come down, and celebrations were soon wrought by months of debate over pension reform, sex scandals, resignation, and on Dec. 13, the apparent suicide of Rep. Dan. Johnson.
With the dawn of a new year, and a new session starting on Jan. 2, Kentucky Republicans are hoping to regain sure footing with a productive session focused on funding pensions and the upcoming budget.
Pensions will be addressed at the start of the session, according to Sen. Jared Carpenter, R-Berea, noting Kentucky legislators have worked hard over the past few months on the original bill presented by Gov. Matt Bevin, to craft a bill members could fully support and that will be “palatable” to public employees and teachers. Scores on those proposed amendments are currently awaited, according to Kentucky House Majority Leader Rep. Jonathan Shell, R-Lancaster.
“I want to treat current employees fairly,” said Carpenter, speaking on what a bill he could support might look like. “There will have to be some concession. But someone teaching 20 years (has) planned their later years based on what they were going to get. The original plan changed that. I still have a hard time saying that’s a fair thing to do to someone (already) in the system.”
While incoming employees will likely see pensions revised, Carpenter said he wants to make sure quality employees can still be attracted to work in state, city and county government jobs, and as teachers.
The senator added his desire for more dialogue with the community so they can see that their legislators have their best interest at heart.
Rep. Wesley Morgan, R-Richmond, said he hasn’t reviewed the newest amendments to the pension bill, but said he wouldn’t “do anything" on it until speaking with school officials to see how it would affect them.
“I represent my constituents and I want to know what my constituents have to say. That will determine how I vote on it,” Morgan said.
Next to the pension crisis, the budget will have top billing in the session. According to Shell, Bevin will make his budget proposal on the 10th legislative day. Important budget line items include pensions, education, the state corrections system and transportation, to name a few.
Transportation funding could closely affect Madison County. Carpenter cited Highway 627 and Interstate 75’s exit 95, where Boonesborough Elementary will be built in the already congested area.
The state’s six-year road plan calls for construction of a new, five-lane interchange at exit 95 by 2018, according to a previous Register report.
While pension and budgets will leave room in the session for little else, Shell hopes to see a bill making placement for adoption/foster care a faster and more streamlined process passed.
Another bill he hopes passes is an essential skills bill, which would give credit to schools that help students be work-ready, Shell further explained.
Both Carpenter and Shell acknowledged the state’s incarceration number, likely a symptom of the drug epidemic and a burden on tax dollars.
“We need to get people that need to be in the system arrested and punished, but at the same time, lighten the load and look at the root of the problem,” Shell elaborated.
After the pension bill and budget are settled, Kentucky legislators plan to tackle the next item on Bevin’s wish list — tax reform.
Morgan told The Register he would like to see Kentucky move toward a consumption tax, instead of an income tax.
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In 2017, Kentucky saw nearly $9 billion in economic investment in the state and 16,500 jobs created, according to Shell, who said he hopes the momentum carries over to 2018, keeping the Commonwealth a more attractive place to do business.
The Register was unable to reach Rep. Donna Mayfield R-Winchester for comment before press time.
Reach Critley King at 624-6623; follow her on Twitter @critleyking.