Kentucky Chamber of Commerce leaders and local state legislators met with Murray Calloway-County Chamber members and city leaders Friday in the newly opened Marriott Hotel to outline goals for the 2017 legislative session.
This is part of a tour across the state, where Kentucky Chamber President and CEO Dave Adkisson is speaking about priorities in the short session, which convenes January 3.
Republican State Senator Stan Humphries and Republican State Representative Kenny Imes also spoke at the breakfast event.
Adkisson presented an ambitious 'wish list,' but admitted that realistically only four or five of the items would likely move forward. He said given the Republican majority in the House, Senate and Governor's mansion projects that have been stalled in the past may have a chance of moving forward. Items he predicts movement on include Right to Work, repealing prevailing wage and reforming the legal climate.
Legislative 'wish list' from the Kentucky Chamber:
- Pension transparency
- Pension reform. Adkisson said he doesn't think this will happen in the short session and predicts the issue will be called up in a special session.
- Tax reform. Also predicts special session. "I don't think there's enough time in this coming short session of the legislature to deal with such a serious topic. I think we might see Governor Matt Bevin call a special session in 2017 to deal with pension reform and possibly tax reform," Adkisson said.
- Right to Work. Adkisson said Kentucky is nearly completely surrounded by Right to Work states. He said it's an "emotional issue" for labor unions, but "critically important" for potentially bringing in outside businesses to Kentucky.
- Repeal prevailing wage. In past sessions, he said this was considered just for school projects, but weighs the possibility of city hall and other county projects being included in a repeal.
- Improving workers' compensation. Improving academic standards.
- Charter Schools - Adkisson said this would be an extra 'tool in the toolbox.' "The question is, will it be just a modest experiment with pilot projects in maybe Lexington and Louisville or will they want to paint with a more aggressive brush and make it an option available across the state." [Note: See below for more on this.]
- Legal liability reform (tort reform) Enacting a smoke-free workplace law
- Reform criminal justice system
- Policies that bolster infrastructure investment (broadband, etc.)
- Low-cost energy policies with a focus on the coal industry.
State Senator Stan Humphries took a break from the GOP caucus in Paducah to outline his thoughts and plans for the upcoming session. Humphries said while tax modernization is a concern, the issue can't be rushed. He also predicted Governor Bevin will call for a special session on this issue. He also plans to make a push for reforming the TVA in-lieu-of tax on property, putting more money back into counties for economic development and will seek to lift the pause on state highway work, which would include progress on expanding 641 South.
Humphries also said judicial redistricting may be looked at. He also supports LIFT (Local investments for transformation) also known as local option sales tax, giving communities the option to decide on temporary tax increases to pay for certain projects. He echoed support for right to work legislation and repealing prevailing wage.
State Representative Kenny Imes also called for moving right to work forward and repealing prevailing wage, predicting these things will be of high priority in the upcoming session. He said for those concerned about potentially lower wages, that less regulations could attract more business and create a more competitive workplace.
Imes has pre-field a bill that sunsets all state regulations (that haven't had a major change) every seven years. The agency proposing the regulation would then re-present the item for consideration. Imes said this would make Kentucky "more business friendly" and relates it to Governor Bevin's Red Tape Reduction initiative. He brought two books to illustrate his point - regulations on public education in Kentucky, one from 2010 an a larger book for 2016.
Imes has also proposed a concurrent resolution to encourage Congress to revisit teacher social security spousal benefits. A windfall elimination provision prevents teachers from 'double-dipping' into retirement pensions. He also is advocating moving statewide elections to a presidential election year. He says the reason is economic and would bring cost-savings to counties.
Regarding charter schools, Adkisson met some push back on this from members in the audience. He said the Chamber generally favors charter schools authorized by a school board in areas where special help was needed and where public schools had been failing. He said he thinks legislation will be 'seriously considered' and passed in the upcoming session. A measure calling for pilot projects in Lexington and Louisville failed in last year's session.
Murray Schools Superintendent Bob Rogers said he was concerned that given the Chamber's influence, it might give the impression that people across Kentucky favor charter schools. Instead, he suggested lessening restrictions on public schools (as exhibited by Imes) and advocated for school choice. "Why not give the public schools the same opportunity? If we don't have to go by every regulation and every law, if we can pick and choose which ones we go by then certainly things could be different."
Rogers said he is against public money going to private organizations, but conceded that if Louisville is where charter schools are needed then to put them in Louisville.
Murray Mayor and former Calloway County Schools Superintendent Jack Rose agreed that public schools should be given more flexibility, "If charter schools are allowed to exist within the public school structure and give the public school some of the flexibility - if not most of the flexibility you give charter school people - you're gonna see improvement in the public schools to go along with it."
Adkisson responded to these concerns, saying "We don't want to pull away from public schools." He added that he didn't think legislators would support taking money out of the public school system to support charter schools. He said they should be in areas with persistently underperforming schools.