Government

Senate Week in Review – By State Senator Dorsey Ridley

Bill Stephens, Web Editor

April 3rd, 2018

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FRANKFORT — The last five days of this session were framed by the voices of citizens from around the commonwealth making their wishes known. Thousands came to the Capitol daily, chanting and marching from early in the morning to late in the evening. The protests culminated on Monday, the 58th day of the 60-day session, when teachers, fire fighters, law enforcement officers, public employees, and retirees descended on Frankfort in mass numbers to express their opposition to a pension bill and support the need to fully fund our schools.
With the chants reverberating from one chamber to the other, a pension bill, a revenue measure and a budget/two-year spending plan passed in both the Senate and the House.
Unfortunately, I could not vote for these three measures. All three bills were crafted behind closed doors without input from the Democrat legislators and without testimony from the stakeholders. I support the democratic process and was disheartened that the voices of our main stakeholders – the taxpayers — were not heard. There was more than enough time for these bills to have been vetted in the open with all sides being given the opportunity for input.
But, that was not the scenario that played out in these final days. Instead, all three of these lengthy bills were called for a vote before legislators even had time to read them.
The pension bill, Senate Bill 151, was passed with no public hearing, no actuarial analysis, and no outside testimony. Sadly, it is a bad bill. It will hurt public education and make recruiting new teachers unnecessarily challenging. Teachers hired after January 2019 will be placed in a hybrid-cash balance plan, rather than in the current defined benefits plan, and will have to work until age 65 or thereabouts. SB 151 caps the use of sick days for future retirees, effective December 31 of this year, which will likely cause some of our best teachers to retire before they would like to. SB 151 will not impact the unfunded mandate, nor does it add any new money to KTRS. It fails.
On Monday morning, we were surprised to find that the Free Conference Committee – or rather the Republicans from the two chambers – had not only agreed upon a biennial budget, but also tax reform. Again, there was no input from Democrats and no testimony from our taxpayers. The two bills were drafted, again, behind closed doors. The Democrats did not even have copies of the bills to review, but rather were given a summary and asked to vote on two monumental measures.
The tax measure, House Bill 366, passed the Senate 20-18 and the House 51-44.
This tax plan is a regressive tax plan that is not in the best interest of working Kentuckians. Lowering the corporate tax rate will not stimulate any investment in Kentucky. This bill shifts the burden to working families and people on fixed incomes to cut corporate taxes. The bill puts a sales tax on certain services such as landscaping, janitorial, veterinarian for small animals, fitness and recreational sports centers, commercial laundries, golf courses and country clubs, pet grooming, weight loss centers, and campgrounds. It does not include barbers and cosmetologists. It does include service and repairs, such as car and air conditioning repairs.
I opposed this bill. This revenue measure is not tax reform as it was touted, but is a tax increase on our poor and most vulnerable citizens and a burden on Kentucky’s small business owners.
Once HB 366 had been sent to the House, we took up the $22 billion state spending plan, House Bill 200, which gained final approval in the Senate 25-13 and later in the House 59-36.
While the budget still includes 6.25 percent baseline cuts for most state agencies as recommended by the governor, a few agencies—including the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, Kentucky State Police, and local school-based Kentucky Family Resource and Youth Services Centers, or FRYSCs—will have their funding restored. However, many of the 70 programs that were cut in the Governor’s budget proposal remain unfunded, including Commission on Women, Early Childhood Development scholarships, and other education scholarships many of which targeted coal country.
HB 200 will boost base per-pupil funding for K-12 education, or SEEK, to $4,000 per student in each fiscal year. It will also provide school transportation funding.
HB 200 also adds more than $60 million in new revenue to help implement proposed adoption and foster care reforms, including more funding for placement of foster children with relatives, to hire more social workers, to increase social worker salaries, and to expand kinship care.
Nevertheless, I still have grave concerns about reductions in higher education funding and the lack money for safety measures in secondary schools. While vastly improved over the Governor’s propoal, this is still a bad budget that does not fund education as it should be and does not meet the overall needs of the state. It will do will do more to decimate public education than anything that has transpired in legislature in decades.
A two-year state Road Plan that would authorize over $2.4 billion for bridges, repaving and other highway needs throughout Kentucky is on its way to the governor’s desk after receiving passage in both chambers. House Bill 202 will invest nearly $1 billion in bridge and road work while bolstering economic development.
We will return to Frankfort for the final two days on April 13 and 14. Those days are important because it will give us the opportunity to override any vetoes by the Governor. Even though time in this session of the General Assembly is short, you can still share your input by calling the LRC message line at 800-372-7181 or by emailing me directly at dorsey.ridley@LRC.KY.GOV.
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