House, Senate leaders speak to sold-out crowd at Kentucky Chamber Day
By Lorie Hailey
LEXINGTON, Ky. (Jan. 11, 2013) — The annual Kentucky Chamber Day at the Lexington Convention Center on Thursday was filled to the brim with some of the biggest names in business and politics, and the unofficial theme for the night seemed to be hope.
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The event, the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce’s annual kick-off to the legislative session, gives state leaders a chance to discuss their priorities for the legislative session.
For the first time in many years, the Senate has a new president, shaking up the dynamic between the House, Senate and the governor. Longtime Senate President David Williams and Gov. Steve Beshear had a somewhat fiery relationship, even before Williams ran against Beshear for the office of the governor. The governor had called Williams an “obstructionist” for blocking legislation to approve expanded gambling.
Beshear appointed Williams late last year to a judgeship in his district, which he accepted. The Senate elected Manchester attorney Bob Stivers as Williams’ replacement.
Each of leaders on Thursday were optimistic about tackling tough issues even though the General Assembly is meeting in short session this winter.
Beshear told the sold-out crowd that for the first time in five years, he is looking forward to the legislative session. (It began Jan. 8.) House Speaker Greg Stumbo called for legislators to act in a bipartisan fashion, not just talk about it.
“Let’s leave here tonight reinvigorated, rededicated and not just talking about issues, but doing something about the issues,” Stumbo said. “Let’s make 2013 the year of solutions.”
Rep. Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, House Minority Leader, said the entire leadership of the General Assembly dined together recently, in a social setting, starting the session off on friendly terms.
“I’m more optimistic than I’ve been in 14 years that we can work together to find solutions to the problems that affect the people of Kentucky,” Hoover said.
Stivers also called for his colleagues to set aside their differences and work together.
“The day of gotcha politics has got to be a thing of the past,” he said to much applause.
Although there are many problems facing Kentucky, Stivers said he has a “very optimistic view of where we are and where we’re going.”
Among those issues are pension reform, creating a better business climate, education spending and Kentucky’s drug abuse epidemic, he said.
Even though this session is only 30 days, there is no reason why the legislature cannot tackle pension reform, Hoover said, adding that restructuring the system should be the legislature’s No. 1 priority.
The Kentucky Chamber of Commerce also considers pension reform a priority. The system is unstable and drastically underfunded and is the biggest threat facing the commonwealth, according to the chamber. The broken system has led to less funding for public schools, no employee pay raises, service cutbacks for people in need, canceled construction projects; the delay of job-creating programs and still higher college tuition, chamber leaders said.