Many in the business community didn’t know what to expect when the 2016 General Assembly convened in early January. Governor Matt Bevin had just been sworn in a few weeks before after a contentious gubernatorial campaign, House Democrats were barely hanging on to their majority after several key appointments and party flipping by members, and there was a special election for four seats in the House that had the potential to shift the balance of power.
However, despite the odds, policy trumped politics this year, making the session one of the most successful the business community has seen.
The state budget and pension problems dominated the session, and we at the Kentucky Chamber think Frankfort made major strides in getting the state’s fiscal house in order.
The divided legislature was able to come up with a budget that is arguably the most responsible in years because it deals with our public pension problems head-on, putting an additional $1 billion into the state’s ailing pension systems. While we regret that our universities and community colleges will experience additional cuts, we are pleased that the budget contained targeted money for workforce development, more funds for college tuition assistance, and criteria for performance based funding of higher education, something the Chamber has supported for years.
In addition to the budget, the Chamber logged several other victories for the business community. The passage of public-private partnership (P3) legislation, a top priority for the Chamber for three years, will enable increased private investment in state and local infrastructure projects. Felony expungement legislation will address Kentucky’s workforce shortage by providing a second chance for thousands of Kentuckians who have a single, low-level felony charge. Legislation to modernize rules for distillers, wineries and breweries will spur tourism and economic development, and a new workers’ compensation task force the Chamber lobbied for, will make recommendations to improve the workers’ compensation system.
Though the business community saw great wins for our legislative agenda, we were disappointed by the failure of common sense transparency legislation that had significant bipartisan support and would have enacted important reforms of the pension systems. Senate Bill 2 would have provided more oversight by the legislature by tightening up how the pension systems develop their contracts, appoint board members, and compensate staff and consultants.
However, the lack of pension transparency does not overshadow the fact that the legislature came together to seriously tackle the pension crisis, produce a responsible budget and pass many bills of high significance to the business community.
It might have seemed like an uphill battle, but the 2016 General Assembly ended up being highly productive, and the results should move our commonwealth forward.
Dave Adkisson serves as Kentucky Chamber of Commerce President and CEO.