By Jacqueline Pitts, The Bottom Line
LEXINGTON, Ky. — As a kickoff to the 2019 session, Kentucky’s governor and legislative leaders took the stage in front of more than 1,500 business leaders at the annual Kentucky Chamber Day Dinner on Thursday in downtown Lexington where they traded barbs and highlighted what they feel will be the top issues of the year.
Gov. Matt Bevin opened his remarks to business leaders by stating he will be running for re-election, putting the rumors to rest that he will not run in 2019 as the January 29 filing deadline approaches. He joked that he predicts House Minority Rocky Adkins will be back at the Chamber Day Dinner in his current role as minority next year and said there are many “recycled” candidates in the race.
The governor also highlighted the business-friendly priorities passed in recent years that have drawn record investment in Kentucky and applauded the Kentucky Chamber for being named Chamber of the Year by the national Council of State Chambers.
As for what is to come in 2019, Bevin stated pensions will continue to be a critical area of need after the Kentucky Supreme Court overturned reforms made by the legislature in 2018 and a special session ended without agreement. He said the sense of urgency continues to grow as the unfunded liability of the systems crowd out other areas of government spending.
House Speaker David Osborne began his remarks with a joke he worried if he goes over his allotted time, he feared his remarks would be invalidated by the Kentucky Supreme Court as many GOP-priority bills have been overturned by the court in recent months.
On this point, Osborne stated he felt the court’s ruling on pension reforms in December was wrong and puts many pieces of legislation passed in recent decades into question. He added there is no quick solution to the issue and believes the General Assembly will likely leave this session without a solution.
Osborne went on to say tensions will be high in 2019 due to the governor’s race but highlighted welfare reform and school safety as some of the priorities of the House Republicans.
Senate President Robert Stivers touted the work of the General Assembly in recent years to pass bills like right to work, repeal of the prevailing wage, tort reform and others that have been on the agenda of the business community for decades and said that work will continue.
Stivers said he expects the legislature will focus on making schools safer, smoothing out the rough edges of the new tax reform package passed in 2018, continuing efforts to improve workers’ compensation system, and other initiatives seeking to move Kentucky forward in 2019.
Democratic House Minority Leader Rocky Adkins, who is also running for governor, said he would like to see Kentucky be the competitive place everyone in the room would like for it to be, which he believes involves long-term investments in education, economic development and workforce.
As for the 2019 session, Adkins said he expects many challenges but he believes the 30-day short session is meant for modifications and adjustment, imploring GOP leaders to slow the tempo down and work together on issues like tax reform changes including a fix for nonprofits, school safety, medical marijuana, and others.
Senate Minority Leader Morgan McGarvey started his speech with jokes about the Democratic caucuses in both legislative chambers being ready and willing to come in on Saturday and work toward repealing many GOP-priorities passed in recent years before Republican Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer came up on stage to remind McGarvey that Republicans have supermajorities in both the House and Senate.
All jokes aside, McGarvey said the General Assembly has a new opportunity to work together in a bipartisan fashion on issues like school safety, bail reform, criminal justice issues, and more.
Kentucky Chamber President and CEO Dave Adkisson kicked off the event by highlighting infrastructure funding, legal liability reform, bail reform, sports wagering, fixing the state’s arbitration statute, tribunal reform, and tobacco-free schools as top priorities of the business community in 2019. Adkisson encouraged state leaders to enact policies that move Kentucky boldly forward.