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Hello and Happy New Year! As we start the New Year, so starts a new session in Frankfort.
The 2013 session of the Kentucky General Assembly is 30 days long and is known as the “short” session. During the first week, both caucuses are traditionally busy choosing their respective leaders and making committee assignments.
I was pleased to have been appointed by Leadership as the chairman of the Agriculture Committee. In addition, I will continue as co-chair of the Tobacco Settlement Agreement Fund Oversight Committee. I will be a member of the Government Contract Review Committee, the Transportation Committee, and as a liaison member of the Budget Review Subcommittee on Transportation. I am excited to contribute my efforts to each one of these.
This session, while short, will nevertheless be busy with several important issues. As many of you know, public employee pension reform is at the top of the list. Over the summer, a bipartisan Senate and House task force heard from a diverse group of advocates and experts including state employees, business groups, and the Pew Center on the States. After hearing these reports, what is clear is the retirement system is in dire need of reform and, if not addressed, will be insolvent in a few short years. Currently, the system is only about 26% funded which represents a $33 billion unfunded liability. Please know, teachers’ retirement is entirely different and on a relatively sound footing. The first step the tax force is recommending is to fully fund the actuarial recommended contribution (ARC). While difficult at best, it’s important to know taking steps now to reform the system will ensure a faster recovery and ease the strain on other needs like education and human services.
In addition to pension reform, the implementation of Medicaid managed care which, unfortunately, has not gone smoothly from the start is another serious issue. We’ve heard many complaints about denial of care to patients and about slow payments to doctors, hospitals and other providers. Medicaid provides a valuable service to over 800,000 Kentuckians and it is a huge cost driver to the state budget. I want to make sure every tax dollar used to fund Medicaid is used wisely.
Since we’re talking about the importance of protecting your hard-earned income, let me point out the recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Tax Reform. Recently, the group suggested raising both household and business utility rates, raising the cigarette tax, taxing retiree pensions, and eliminating certain deductions among other items. I don’t see much sentiment in the Senate for raising taxes, as we want a tax policy that grows jobs and expands the economy. Since this is a revenue measure, this type of bill must start in the House of Representatives. Yet, as your senator, I intend to be very vocal about this issue.
I feel it’s important to ensure our children are work and career ready. We will continue to monitor the implementation of Senate proposal (SB 1 – 2009) that puts Kentucky at the national forefront using common-core standards and fair teacher evaluations. It’s likely you’ll see Advancement Placement classes and the teachers who teach them on the Senate agenda once again, as well as a bill making it easier for high school students to graduate early. I will also carefully evaluate any school safety proposals considered during the next session.
While these are all important issues, there are others, too. Pro-life legislation, financial transparency of special taxing districts, and the impact of Obamacare on Kentucky will all be addressed in some form.
I hope this gives you an overview of the upcoming session. I’ll keep you informed as we go through session. In the meantime, if I can be of any assistance or you have any questions, concerns, or comments, please call me in Frankfort toll-free at 1-800-372-7181. You can also visit us at www.lrc.ky.gov to learn more about our work.