The Richmond Register

Viewpoints

March 28, 2013

The ‘New Frankfort’ shows government can work

The closing of the 2013 General Assembly at midnight Tuesday was more remarkable than its warm, gushy opening the first week of January.

Remember January? The Governor invited legislators to the mansion for dinner, making an important, if primarily symbolic gesture, toward the new legislature.

Legislative leaders and the Governor, speaking to more than 1,000 state business and political leaders at the Kentucky Chamber Day event a few days later, declared a new atmosphere of bipartisanship and civility that would lead to real progress for the Commonwealth.

Attendees were overheard taking bets on how long that campfire spirit of “Kumbaya” would last. After all, legislative sessions are expected to devolve into political gamesmanship and/or warfare before the clock strikes midnight on the last day.

Thirty legislative days later, we can reach conclusions based on what happened.

In spite of major philosophical differences on some emotional issues and competing political agendas among key players, the bipartisan atmosphere in Frankfort, by and large, was sustained and produced real, measurable results for the Commonwealth.

Compromises enabled bills on public pensions, hemp, university bonding and the high school attendance age to reach the governor’s desk, and those are just a few examples.

In the eyes of the business community, fixing the state’s broken public pension system wasn't everything in this session – but it came close, representing a fundamental opportunity for the state to get its financial house in order.

We’ve been hammering on this issue for six years. With more than $30 billion in promises made to state workers and current retirees and less than 50 cents put aside for every $1 of promises made, Kentucky’s system is one of the worst in the country.

Our bond ratings have been downgraded, making it more expensive for state and local governments to borrow money for necessary projects.

A compromise solution to the problem followed months of work last year by an interim legislative committee headed by Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, and then-representative Mike Cherry, D-Princeton.

With the help of the Pew Charitable Trust and the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, the hybrid of a traditional, defined-benefit pension system and a modern, defined-contribution plan was advocated.

With bipartisan leadership in the Senate by new Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, and Minority Leader R.J. Palmer, D-Winchester, Sen. Thayer’s Senate Bill 2 passed that chamber with strong bipartisan support, 33-5.

House leaders, specifically Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, questioned the structure of the proposed new system, but focused more on the need to find a way to pay for it.

Gov. Steve Beshear was willing to consider the hybrid plan, but said he wouldn't accept a plan that didn't include a way to pay for it. He wasn’t going to put the costs of fixing the pension system “on the backs of our school children.”

The process stalled. “We have to have reform in this session” ran up against “We have to find a way to pay for it.”

The Kentucky Chamber of Commerce stepped up its outreach with a sizeable buy of radio advertising in early March on 200 radio stations, insisting that pension reform needed to happen in the 2013 session.

The governor weighed in, convening countless meetings of legislators in his office.

To some, his willingness to roll up his sleeves was a refreshing show of executive leadership on one of the toughest issues to confront Frankfort in years.

President Stivers, to his great credit, had pledged to set a new tone in the Senate. All indications to-date from Republicans and Democrats is that he has fulfilled that pledge without compromising his party’s principles.

Speaker Stumbo showed his political creativity by trying several times to find a funding source that was palatable to a majority of his members.

The possibility of a tax increase on cigarettes, a tax on an expanded lottery and a trade-off with revenues that were flowing into the road fund were concepts that were eventually discarded.

Ultimately, the governor negotiated a plan between the leaders of both chambers that garnered enough votes for the House to approve not only the pension fix, but a funding plan to pay for it.

Stumbo's late-evening speech on the House floor was brilliant for giving his members political cover for a difficult vote and for straightforwardly addressing the concerns of some of his key Democratic constituencies – namely employee unions that didn't want to see any substantial changes to the state’s pension system.

Most Republican House members, even those concerned about the proposed revenue measures, stepped up and supported the pension fix.

The business community, as we noted several times, would have preferred a pure 401-K. But in the realities of the business world, you don’t always get all you want and are willing to settle for what will work.

In this session of the General Assembly, bipartisanship won out on the biggest issue of the day. Pragmatism and democracy prevailed.

And Kentucky is better off for it.

Dave Adkisson is President and CEO of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce.

1
Text Only
Viewpoints
  • 06.29 CrystalFarewell.jpg Starting over at Head Start

    All I ever wanted to be was a journalist. Having worked on my high school and college newspapers, I knew it was the career for me.
    I love talking to people, listening to their stories, being creative every day and experiencing new things. But as you know, news happens outside the hours of 9 to 5, and my job here at the Register rarely stayed within that time frame.

    June 29, 2014 2 Photos

  • Ike Adams They don’t make strawberries as they did back in the old days

    I’m not inclined to go through my archives at the moment, but it almost feels like the column I’m about to write has almost become an annual thing over the years.
    At least I know for sure that that this is not the first time that memories of picking strawberries there on Blair Branch on hot days in June has triggered this keyboard about this time of year.
    I grew up on a little subsistence, hillside farm deep in the mountains of eastern Kentucky, among the coalfields near the Virginia line.

    June 26, 2014 1 Photo

  • Ike Adams Baby boomers have let technology rob their grandchildren of the joys of youth

    When I was growing up, it was not uncommon to see fathers and sons along creek banks fishing together or in the woods hunting squirrels or pitching horse shoes or even shooting marbles late in the afternoon in the cool hours before dark.
    Dads were teaching kids to play the games they grew up with. Little girls, learned from mothers,how to skip rope, play with jacks or play hopscotch.

    June 12, 2014 1 Photo

  • Ronnie-Ellis.jpg No Lincoln or Douglas in this debate

    Remember the famous slap-down in the 1988 vice presidential debate when Republican Dan Quayle compared his youth and limited government experience to those of John Kennedy’s when Kennedy ran for president?
    His Democratic opponent, Texas Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, acidly replied: “I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.”

    June 7, 2014 1 Photo

  • Ronnie-Ellis.jpg Senate campaign already in full bloom

    Any hope for a respite in the U.S. Senate campaign following Tuesday’s primary disappeared immediately.
    Mitch McConnell and Alison Lundergan Grimes came out swinging in victory speeches which sounded like campaign kickoffs.
    McConnell commended Matt Bevin on “a tough (primary) race” and appealed to Bevin supporters to unite behind his re-election bid. That will be hard for Bevin and those who backed him.

    May 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • Jim Waters.JPG ‘Taxpayer-eaters’ meet ‘self-serving politician-eaters’

    What some candidates could gain in this year’s election – beyond just winning office – is a stark reminder of how wrong political leaders were when declaring last year they had adequately addressed Kentucky’s public-pension crisis.
    Instead, legislators with serious courage deficiencies failed to agree on reforms beyond what they believe are “politically feasible.”

    May 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • Ike Adams Step Out, Step up for Diabetes Association

    Six weeks ago when I wrote here announcing the 2014 Edition of Team TKO’s American Diabetes Association, Step Out Walk Team, several dozen of you readers sent generous donations to sponsor grandson Tyler Kane Ochs (TKO) and me in the walk that takes place, rain or shine, in the mud or not, at Keeneland on the morning of May 31.
    Another several dozen of you either called, emailed or dropped a card in regular mail and asked that I remind you again “after the holidays” (Easter and Mother’s Day).

    May 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • Ronnie-Ellis.jpg Hitting the campaign trail

    The most watched race in the country ? the battle for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Republican Mitch McConnell ? has so far produced a bevy of charges and not much substance.
    We haven’t seen that much of McConnell or his likely Democratic opponent Alison Lundergan Grimes out on the campaign trail.
    McConnell’s primary opponent Matt Bevin has been much more active and visible, but his performance hasn’t enhanced his chances.

    May 11, 2014 1 Photo

  • The case of the scary black cat

    If Margie didn’t believe that black cats were the harbinger of bad luck, she certainly believed it when a black cat brushed against her leg while she was leaning over a large trash can burning garbage one late afternoon.
    Startled by the sudden appearance of the feline, Margie opened her mouth wide and let out a blood-curdling scream that could have awakened Count Dracula himself.

    May 10, 2014

  • Ike Adams Basking in the spring sunshine

    If you had asked me, as recently as two weeks ago, to make a list of things I expected to see on the first Monday in May of 2014, two of the things that I actually did see would not have been on the list, even if you’d required that it contain at least 500 items.
    I’d have been a bit skeptical about Ralph’s purple asparagus and his gorgeous snowball bush, both of which came through most admirably. And I would have had my doubts about the poppies that have been in our back yard for several generations and the bearded German Iris that Jeanette Todd gave us more than two decades ago. It faithfully stuns us there at the corner of the front porch every spring, but there they were, basking in absolute glory as the sun set Monday afternoon.

    May 8, 2014 1 Photo

AP Video
Raw: Air Algerie Flight 5017 Wreckage Virginia Governor Tours Tornado Aftermath Judge Faces Heat Over Offer to Help Migrant Kids Kerry: No Deal Yet on 7-Day Gaza Truce Kangaroo Goes Missing in Oklahoma More M17 Bodies Return, Sanctions on Russia Grow Gaza Residents Mourn Dead Amid Airstrikes Raw: Deadly Tornado Hits Virginia Campground Ohio State Marching Band Chief Fired After Probe Raw: Big Rig Stuck in Illinois Swamp Cumberbatch Brings 'Penguins' to Comic-Con Raw: Air Algerie Crash Site in Mali Power to Be Restored After Wash. Wildfire Crashed Air Algerie Plane Found in Mali Israel Mulls Ceasefire Amid Gaza Offensive In Case of Fire, Oxygen Masks for Pets Mobile App Gives Tour of Battle of Atlanta Sites
Hyperlocal Search
Premier Guide
Find a business

Walking Fingers
Maps, Menus, Store hours, Coupons, and more...
Premier Guide
Poll

What county fair attraction do you like most?

Amusement rides
Beauty pageants
Flora Hall craft exhibits
Horse shows
Livestock, poultry shows
Truck, tractor pulls
Mud, dirt races
Gospel sing
I like them all
     View Results