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The budget, gambling, tax reform, education and more will be on the table as the Kentucky General Assembly gather starting this week for the 2014 session.
The 60-day session begins Jan. 7 and is set to adjourn in Frankfort on April 15.
The Grant County News checked in with the two local legislators, state Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, and Rep. Brian Linder, R-Dry Ridge, to get a preview of the issues that will be dealt with during the next few months.
In your mind, what is the top priority for the 2014 General Assembly and why?
Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown
“Our top priority is the timely passage of a balanced budget that adequately funds state government, which includes public education, corrections and Medicaid, as the majority of the budget. There are an endless list of requests from those seeking an increase in funding, but in the current economic environment, that is very unlikely.”
Rep. Brian Linder, R-Dry Ridge
“This is a budget year so our top priority is to get a budget passed on time. Typically, past sessions when it came to a budget sometimes the legislature doesn’t get it done in time and they have to go with a special session.”
Gov. Beshear has mentioned education as one of his top priorities and his desire to find more funding for education. Do you feel more funding is needed for education and is there anyway you see that as a realistic possibility this session?
Thayer: “It’s likely that the General Assembly will take its lead from Gov. Beshear when he addresses a joint session (this week.) There is no new revenue to increase funding for education. But, the governor has mentioned the possibility of cuts in other areas to increase the school funding formula. I’m very open to considering that.”
Linder: “It’s a top priority of mine. If you look back, education has pretty much been flatlined since 2008. The reality of it is there is two ways we accomplish (increasing education funding.) We’ve been told there is no new money out there. There is a little bit of money projected to come in but a lot of that is promised to pension reform and also the governor has expanded Medicaid. So, we’re really back to ground zero. There’s really only one or two things you can do if you want to raise money for education.
That’s either you raise taxes or cut spending or transfer spending to education. Unless the governor can put forth a plan on tax reform that makes sense and can raise revenue without raising taxes, then we’re going to have to cut other departments in state government to free up the money.
The governor did say that he was willing to do that if need be.”
What, if anything, would you like to see done in terms of tax reform and do you believe this issue will be tackled this session?
Thayer: “I don’t see a lot of momentum right now for tax reform because there is no consensus of what the definition of tax reform is. What I’d like to see is a tax code that encourages businesses to create jobs, invest in the economy and for businesses to move here from other states. I’m not going to be supportive of tax reform that turns into tax increases on the people of Kentucky.”
Linder: “I really don’t have a feel for it if it’s going to be done this session or not. They had a task force and I sat through a couple information (sessions) of what the tax commission came up with. There was a whole bunch of different examples that they gave. There wasn’t anything real specific. I think what I’m hearing is we’re looking for some leadership from the governor to give us what he thinks needs to pass. At the end of the day, I don’t think we’re going to see anything done because I don’t see anybody picking up the leadership and going with it. I’d like to see, whatever it would be, be revenue neutral. At the end of the day, we’re not raising taxes on everybody.”
Bills have been filed regarding the proposed Bluegrass Pipeline, which would partially go through southern Grant County. Where do you stand on the project and what do you see in terms of legislation regarding this project?
Thayer: “I doubt there is going to be any legislation passed that would stop the pipeline. That’s not really in the purview of the General Assembly. However, there are several bills that will be considered that could tighten up our eminent domain laws in Kentucky. I predict those will get serious consideration to protect private property owner rights.”
Linder: “There is some legislation to kind of close the loophole on eminent domain. If a company wants to come in and privately negotiate with landowners and those landowners are OK with giving the right of way to a company, it is their property they can do what they want. I’m against a company coming in and taking land through eminent domain if that person doesn’t want their land to be used for that. The bills that are out there are to more strongly define what eminent domain is. I would support those.”
Do you expect that expanded gambling will be discussed this session and what is your stance on the issue?
Thayer: “My position is the same as it’s been for 11 years. On expanded gambling, I think we should put the issue on the ballot and have the people decide via a constitutional amendment. This is an area where I worked with Gov. Beshear back in 2012. I sponsored his bill and brought it to a vote onthe floor of the Senate where it lacked the votes. There are bills that have been pre-filed, one in the House and one in Senate, both by members of leadership. The devil is in the details. We’ll deal with it at the appropriate time. It’s my position that the bill ought to start in the House. The Senate has dealt with this constitutional amendment gaming issue on the floor, but the House never has. Gov, Beshear campaigned on this issue and I think the chamber that is controlled by his party ought to take first crack at the bill in the session.”
Linder: “I do think it will come up this session. We had some meetings in December and the mood of the crowd I got was I think it has a chance of passing this year. I personally am against it. I hate to see us try to fix our budget by using a form of revenue that is an addiction to certain people through gambling. I hope there’s other ways we can fix the revenue problem as opposed to putting that burden on a section of our population that may be addicted to gambling. I will vote against it. I think it will pass the House this year. I don’t know what it will do in the Senate, but I got the feeling that there is a little bit of a fatigue of not having money. It seemed like a lot of people were talking that maybe gambling and casinos were the answer.”
What impact do you think 2014 being an election year will have on the session’s productivity and the ability for both parties to work together?
Thayer: “We proved in the 2013 session that despite the fact that we have divided government in Kentucky, which is very unusual in this country, that we can work together. Most states are either all Republican or all Democrat. While I would like to see the day very soon where Republicans control the House, the Senate and the governor’s mansion, the reality of right now we have divided government. I think we can work together on the big issues of the day. To give you an example, the governor has invited me to lunch at the governor’s mansion on Thursday, the first working day of the new year. Gov. Beshear have several significant differences about the role of government, but we have proven we have proven we can work together on big issues like pension reform. Having said that, I strongly believe Republicans deserve an opportunity to run all branches of the government.
The Democrats have been in control of the state for basically 200 years. I think it’s time that my party has a chance to do that and the Republicans are closer than ever to taking over the House. How Greg Stumbo and the Democrats that run the House of Representatives respond to that challenge is going to be one of the underlined themes in this session.”
Linder: “I think it will have a heavy impact. I wish it didn’t. I’ve always tried to do what’s right and let the election take care of itself. But, I do know that the sentiment down there is a lot decisions that are going to be made and bills that are going to be brought up some are going to be doneby people with an eye on their next election. Unfortunately, that’s the way it is. Instead of going down and trying to do what’s best for people, a lot of people are worried about themselves and whether or not they will be back for another two years. As for me, I’ve always tried to separate the two and go forward and do what people want me to do or what I feel like is right for people. At the end of the day, if they don’t return me in my next election, I know I’ve done the right thing.”