A new chapter in Kentucky’s history is being written this year in Frankfort as the Republican Party holds the governor’s office and a majority in both chambers of the General Assembly. This changing political landscape offers new opportunities, and the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce is optimistic that the 2017 session will bring passage of some common-sense legislation that will create jobs across the commonwealth.
There are, of course, a couple of headline issues – pensions and tax reform – that deserve serious consideration and will require more time to address than that allowed in a short session. Those are perhaps best left to a special session later this year, an approach that many of Kentucky’s elected leaders seem to favor.
The first week of session has shown us that significant progress is possible in a so-called short session (30 days of legislative meetings instead of 60). Two of our four priorities were passed in that first week, and we’re optimistic that the remaining two will see passage before the legislature adjourns. Here are the Chamber’s four key priorities:
Right to Work. The Chamber thanks the governor and legislative leaders for passing a right-to work law (House Bill 1) during the first week of session and allowing employees to make a personal decision on whether to pay dues to a union. States with right-to-work laws report faster per capita income growth, faster growth in manufacturing and non-agricultural jobs, greater capital expenditures, lower unemployment and fewer work stoppages. As Kentucky has struggled to recruit and retain business, not being a right-to-work state has cost us jobs. Kentucky is the only southern state not to have enacted right-to-work legislation. With Indiana, Michigan and West Virginia’s new right-to-work laws, our state is a conspicuous outlier in this much-needed area of reform.
Prevailing Wage. It was also time for Kentucky to repeal its prevailing wage law, which was another pro-business bill (House Bill 3) passed the first week of session. An independent study determined that prevailing wage inflates construction costs by 10 to 16 percent, and that means public construction projects like schools and libraries have to be scaled back. In addition, spending on higher cost public works projects means less money to shore up Kentucky’s ailing pension system, a problem that national credit agencies are watching closely, and less money for education and economic development programs.
Charter Schools. On the education front, Kentucky is one of only seven states that do not allow charter schools, which the Chamber has long advocated. Charter schools are helping other states close achievements gaps, empower parents, and discover innovative ways to help students and teachers succeed in the classroom. They should be included in Kentucky’s education toolbox.
Legal Reform. Finally, the increasing cost of civil litigation, whether through legal fees, higher liability insurance premiums, defensive business practices or simply reduced investment opportunities, is a significant burden for Kentucky’s employers. These costs are hurting businesses, their employees and consumers as they are passed on in the form of higher prices and fewer choices. Because of this the Chamber has long advocated for legal liability reforms.
The Chamber is encouraged that significant progress has been made with these four items ensuring the 2017 legislative session is a great success. We hope you will join the Kentucky Chamber in encouraging our state representatives and senators to support these measures to move Kentucky forward. ■
Dave Adkisson is president and CEO of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce.