Now that we’re a couple of weeks past the conclusion of the 2016 General Assembly, we can all Monday-morning quarterback about the great success of the session.
The legislature was able to come up with a budget that is arguably the most responsible in years. It deals with our public pension problems head on by putting an additional $1 billion into the state’s ailing systems. The Kentucky Chamber is pleased that the budget also contains targeted money for workforce development, more funds for college tuition assistance, and criteria for performance-based funding of higher education, something we have supported for years. While we regret that our universities and community colleges will experience additional cuts, the legislature made major strides in getting the state’s fiscal house in order by tackling the state budget and pension problems in a time of divided government.
A few months back many were skeptical about whether this could be achieved. At the beginning of the session Gov. Matt Bevin had just been s w o r n in after a contentious gubernatorial campaign, House Democrats were barely hanging on to t heir 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.
In addition to the budget, the Chamber logged several other victories for the business community. The Chamber has long championed and led a coalition to pass public-private partnership (P3) legislation, which will enable increased private investment in state and local infrastructure projects. Two years ago, a P3 bill passed the legislature but was vetoed by Gov. Steve Beshear. Last year, the bill passed the House but was never called for a hearing in the Senate. Passing both chambers with a wide bipartisan vote this year, the governor signed the bill into law on April 11.
The Chamber recently endorsed felony expungement legislation, which will address Kentucky’s workforce shortage by providing a second chance for thousands of Kentuckians who have a single, low-level felony charge. This bill had been introduced for many years and passed in the House but died in the Senate. This session, with the b u s i n e s s community as a vocal supporter, the conversation focused around workforce and, with the strong support of the governor, the bill passed the legislature overwhelmingly and was signed into law.
Legislation to modernize rules for distillers, wineries and breweries had been pushed unsuccessfully for many years. This year, however, the effort passed with a broad coalition of support, including the Chamber. The legislation will spur tourism and economic development by modernizing alcohol laws and putting distillers on equal footing with wineries and brewers in the commonwealth.
Though the business community saw great wins for our legislative agenda, we were disappointed by the failure of common-sense transparency l e g i s l a t i o n 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 p e n s i o n 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.
Though it looked unlikely at times, policy trumped politics this year, making the session one of the most successful the business community has seen and moving the state forward.
Dave Adkisson is president and CEO of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce.