Weekly Update: February 11

After a three week break, members of the General Assembly returned to Frankfort for part two of the 2013 Legislative Session. For the next five weeks the House and Senate will debate numerous proposals.

The week started with the Governor’s annual State of the Commonwealth Address delivered to a joint session of the House and Senate. Typically the address focus on the accomplishments made for the betterment of Kentucky, but this year’s address focused on the serious fiscal challenges our Commonwealth faces. According to the Governor, the projected revenue won’t cover current and prior commitments, including areas of education and our public pension system.

While acknowledging the Kentucky’s financial problems, few specifics were offered. The Governor tried to tie Pension Reform to Tax Reform, but my sense is that there is little appetite in the House to do that.

Several major pieces of legislation were placed on the fast track. House Bill 7 was approved in committee and passed out of the House this week. This legislation authorizes funding for 11 projects at our public universities, including the expansion of the Gatton School of Business at the University of Kentucky, and construction of new dorms or renovation of existing dorms at Morehead State University, Murray State University, and Northern Kentucky University. The legislation would allow these schools to issue their own bonds to pay for their respective projects. To me, a key piece of this legislation was that the cost will be covered totally by the universities themselves. I voted for the bill.

House Bill 1 was also approved in committee and passed in the House. House Bill 1 deals with the various special taxing districts that generate billions of dollars throughout the Commonwealth, and sets up greater oversight on their operation. While the goal was laudable and bill did pass, I was concerned about the lack of control over these districts by local government, the fee system set up specifically to hire more employees at the Auditor’s Office for the purpose of monitoring these districts, and the fact that the bill allowed fees to be raised without legislative approval should the “Department of Local Government” “deem it necessary.” I was also concerned that the estimated fiscal impact to city and county governments was found to be to be “indeterminable” under certain circumstances. I was worried about the effect the bill might potentially have for small Volunteer Fire Departments and thought that certain local agencies such as rural water systems, which are already bound by other laws, should have been excluded. Additionally, even the bill’s sponsor noted that the bill was not in response to bad conduct. For these reasons, I voted against the bill.

During my campaign, I promised that the first bill I would introduce would be one keeping legislators from getting paid for a special session called to pass a budget should the legislature not pass a budget in a regular session. I fulfilled this pledge by introducing House Bill 266 (see Press Release here). I also introduce House Bill 267 to safeguard our Second (right to keep and bear arms Amendment and Tenth (states’ rights) Amendment rights.

I anticipate that debate will soon begin on a proposal for reform of Kentucky’s public pension system. Senate Bill 2 was approved by that chamber this past week, and is based on recommendations by a bi-partisan task force that studied our public pension system this past year. Our current pension system is woefully underfunded and is running a unfunded liability of more than $33 billion, and we must address the system now to avoid worse financial problems later.

As always, I look forward to hearing from you. Your input is most welcome.