With the curtain up on the Frankfort political stage, the action is framed by a gifted trio in star roles. By year’s end, either Gov. Steve Beshear or Senate President David Williams will hold the chief executive’s spot. While not a candidate now, House Speaker Greg Stumbo could easily be a front-runner in 2015.
The scene bears out the political adage: It’s always about the next election. Democracy shows that this is how things work. And work is happening fast.
Beshear would raise the drop-out age from 16 to 18, a proposal he’s pushed before.
Williams’ Senate super-majority burst into week one with a wide range of stands, from immigration enforcement to setting the pegs for major comprehensive tax reform.
Louisville’s assignment of students to schools, a process long contentious, would be altered by the Senate. Public pensions, a state government cost-driver, would change to 401(k)-type plans for new hires.
Stumbo is heading the House toward decisions to contain prisons costs, limit payday lending rates and better manage Medicaid, all major moves.
Getting more graduates at all levels has been a theme for the governor as well as First Lady Jane Beshear, an ardent education supporter. One area of potential House and Senate agreement could be upping the dropout age to 18.
As much heat as immigration reform draws, the Senate proposal conveys a commitment to enforcing the law. A similar law in Arizona is in federal court now. Arizona has won strong praise from conservatives and condemnation from the left. Major conventions headed to Phoenix have cancelled in protest, costing millions. Nevertheless, Georgia, Mississippi, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and South Carolina have new legislation under review, just like the Kentucky Senate. More states still could, showing the issue’s popularity.
The state House already has a proposal to solve illegal immigration through enforcement in the workplace, sponsored by Rep. Bob Damron, who chairs the Democratic caucus. Speaker Stumbo says current laws allow for police enforcement.
Two House members, Rep. Jim Wayne, D-Louisville, and Rep. Bill Farmer, R-Lexington, have campaigned to update Kentucky’s aged, outdated tax code.
The Senate approach would force this complex issue through a creative lens – the state’s top economists – and then hold an up or down vote in 2012.
Without such a process, tax change comes in pieces, giving only gradual improvement. Any tax vote is tough politics. A vote on an entire package would devolve into endless horse trading, experts fear. Williams suggests the only way home on this is one vote on one new system.
Another area of potential agreement is crime and punishment. A brain trust has studied myriad problems, costs and solutions, led by the two chairs of judiciary, Rep. John Tilley, D-Hopkinsville, and Sen. Tom Jensen, R-London, along with Chief Justice John Minton. The prestigious PEW Center has been a valuable source along with Justice Sec. J. Michael Brown and Corrections Commissioner LaDonna Thompson.
A new Class E felony category could become law, easing sentencing while better balancing solutions to challenges presented by drugs and increased arrests.
As the Senate addresses spiraling public employee retirement costs, the House wants to undo three unpaid furlough days for public workers, used by Gov. Beshear to balance the state budget.
At issue is $15 million tied to upset state workers, who reside heavily in Democratic Franklin County.
Medicaid and health costs loom large, with one in six Kentuckians covered by Medicaid. Beshear is pushing a major move to managed care, determined make ends meet and services work. The federal government covers 80 percent of the cost, but this could fall back to 70 percent, a huge budget impact.
All in all, the issues set the election stage for November, and provide a preview of decisions that spill over into 2012 and beyond.