A guide to the top issues facing Kentucky lawmakers in 2013 [Lexington Herald-Leader]
|By John Cheves, Lexington Herald-Leader|
|McClatchy-Tribune Information Services|
Here are some of the major issues to watch:
For many years,
Now the bill is due.
State employees are guaranteed their pensions by law, so a collapsing pension fund could force tax hikes and suck money from everything else, including schools and public safety. Bond agencies have noticed, downgrading
"This is not just another
Lawmakers say there's no point in assigning blame.
"We're focused on solutions," Sen.
Thayer co-chaired a legislative task force that proposed solutions in November. It said the legislature must pour more money into the state pension fund, starting with an extra
Lawmakers insist they're serious about fixing the problem this time. House Speaker
Thayer's task force also recommended trimming retirement benefits. A law requiring annual cost-of-living adjustments for pensioners, typically waived in recent years, would be repealed altogether.
Instead of pensions based on their highest salary years, new state employees would enroll in a "hybrid cash-balance plan" that guaranteed them at least a 4 percent return on money they set aside over their careers -- like a private sector 401(k) account, but with some protection. However, the new employees' benefits would not be shielded by the same "inviolable contract" that covers current employees, so the legislature could come back later and reduce them.
State employees and retirees are upset by what they consider an ideological attack on defined-benefits pensions.
"I think it is fundamentally unfair to create two classes of workers, one of which is guaranteed certain benefits in retirement and the other of which is not," said
Other lawmakers have their own ideas for pension reform, such as transparency.
"Taxpayers pay into the pension system and they deserve to see where their money is being spent," McDaniel said. "People should be able to go online and see who is drawing what. When you shine a light on something, you learn all sorts of interesting things about how it works."
In response, Gov.
The proposals include raising taxes on pensions; assessing a 1 percent utility tax on residents and businesses; increasing the cigarette tax by
To partially offset those increases, the commission proposed cutting
"I am mindful that this is a first step," Lt. Gov.
Nobody knows if there will be a second step. By the task force's own count,
The Republican-led Senate shows no enthusiasm for new taxes in 2013. And this is one of the legislature's short 30-day sessions, so under the rules, each chamber must approve tax increases by a 60-percent "super-majority" vote. For that reason, tax reform is likely to be addressed in a special session with simple-majority voting rules -- if it's addressed at all.
"I don't see any real groundswell of support at this time for an initiative on the tax reform issue," said Stumbo, the House speaker.
Beshear has pushed unsuccessfully since 2008 to legalize casino gambling at horse racetracks.
Still, Beshear wants to expand gambling, and the issue "shows no signs of going away," said Thayer, who is presumed to be the next Senate majority leader.
In 2012, Thayer was the governor's chief legislative ally on casino gambling. They might succeed this winter, most likely by putting a constitutional amendment on the ballot.
Every 10 years, the
The legislature approved a redistricting plan in 2012 that took care of the majority parties. However, the minority parties successfully challenged those maps in a courtroom fight that cost taxpayers more than
To save money, the Beshear administration hired three companies in 2011 to manage
The legislature must provide better oversight, said Sen.
"I wish I could say it would be as simple as fixing one or two things, but I don't think that you can target it so simply," Stivers said. "These are total systemic questions that have to be looked at. This is a complex system with multiple parts."
Stumbo, the House speaker, said he wants the state to establish a new and independent agency to mediate disputes between the managed care companies, medical providers and the Cabinet for Health and
Also in 2013, the
Stivers, the GOP
House Bill 1 -- so numbered because it is the top priority of House leaders -- will be a bill recommended by Democratic state Auditor
Special taxing districts spend about
HB 1 would require those districts to register with the state, making it easier to track them. Those that fail to turn in required paperwork or financial information could be subject to an audit by Edelen's office. All special taxing districts also would have to comply with county ethics codes.
Advocates see a bright future for hemp products, including ethanol production, fiber, textiles, food, cosmetics and car parts.
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