By Mark Hansel
Bulldog Report Managing Editor
The Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce previewed the upcoming Kentucky General Assembly session during the Eggs ‘N Issues webinar, Jan. 19. The webinar explored the potential impact of the session on Northern Kentucky legislative priorities and the Commonwealth overall.
“In recent legislative sessions, the General Assembly has taken great strides to address the workforce challenges that have affected the Commonwealth,” said Brent Cooper, President, and CEO of the NKY Chamber. “This year, the General Assembly will tackle key issues that will accelerate business, create jobs, and continue to position Northern Kentucky as an economic driver.
Click below to watch the forum in its entirety.
• Sen. Damon Thayer (R-Georgetown) – Sen. Damon Thayer is a member of the Kentucky State Senate, representing the 17th District and serves as the Majority Floor Leader. Sen. Thayer is the President of Thayer Communications & Consulting. He serves on the Senate Agriculture Committee and is a member of the Equine Drug Research Council. Sen. Thayer has served in the Senate since 2003.
• Sen. Christian “Chris” McDaniel (R-Taylor Mill) – Sen. Chris McDaniel is a member of the Kentucky State Senate representing the 23rd District and serves as the Chairman of the Senate Appropriations and Revenue Committee. Sen. McDaniel owns and operates McD Concrete, a small business located in Erlanger. He served as a Captain in the United States Army from 1997-2001 and has served in the Senate since 2013.
• Rep. Kimberly Moser (R-Taylor Mill) – Rep. Kimberly Moser is a member of the Kentucky House of Representatives, representing the 64th District and serves as the Chair of the Health and Family Services Committee. Rep. Moser’s career experience includes working as a NICU, a flight nurse, a director with the Northern Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy, and the president of the AMA Alliance. She has served in the House since 2017.
• Rep. Buddy Wheatley (D-Covington) – Rep. Buddy Wheatley is a member of the Kentucky House of Representatives, serving the 65th District. Rep. Wheatly is an attorney and served as a Covington firefighter for 20 years. He currently serves as the American Bar Association State and Local Government Bargaining sub-committee Co-Chair. Rep. Wheatly has served in the House since 2019.
The forum began with discussion of the six-week closure of the Brent Spence Bridge late last year, due to a fiery crash.
McDaniel praised all of those involved in the effort to get the span reopened and said it emphasized the importance of a critical regional and nationwide link in the transportation chain.
“We need to take a little bit of a look in the rear-view mirror and say ‘thank you’ to Sec. Jim Gray,” McDaniel said. “The job he did in getting that thing back open was absolutely phenomenal. It emphasized to all of us, the importance of that corridor.”
The impact of the closure drew nationwide attention to an issue that has been recognized as a problem in this region for years.
“It adds an inflection point to the idea that a conversation needs to be happening about the long-term replacements, not just of the bridge, but also what we’re going to do for our east-west connectors,” McDaniel said.
Infrastructure upgrades have been a hot-button topic in recent years, but identifying a source of funding for replacement of the Brent Spence Bridge doesn’t seem to be any closer. Revenue to fund other less-costly, but still significant projects, has also been hard to come by.
Thayer said an increase in the gas tax, which would provide an additional source of revenue, is not going to happen right now.
“We don’t have the votes to pass it in the senate,” Thayer said. “We’re not gonna raise the gas tax on folks when we’re still dealing with the effects of the coronavirus. I do think…we could take the parts of Rep. (Sal) Santoro (R-Florence)’s bill that deal with alternative fuel vehicles, and make sure that they are contributing to the road fund, in a fair measure.”
Typically the General Assembly would approve a two-year budget in an even-numbered year. Because of the coronavirus pandemic and the uncertainty of revenue, a one-year budget was approved in 2020, making it necessary to pass another budget during what is traditionally a “short” session.
The budget discussion usually takes place near the end of a session and requires lengthy discussion in committees and on the floor. This year, however, both the House and the Senate, have passed versions of the budget and discussion committee work is already underway.
Moser said the General Assembly needs to be cautious (and) pay close attention to what the actual revenue is, and not be totally reliant on federal dollars.
“We need to be I’m concerned, as chair of Health and welfare, about Medicaid expansion and that’s really kind of exploded during COVID, Moser said. “Folks did lose their health insurance and did lose their jobs and folks are struggling so I’m not suggesting that we cut anyone off from their health insurance. We need to figure out how to get people back to employee-sponsored health insurance, which will only happen if we can bring jobs back.”
The budget process may be ahead of schedule, but the basic philosophical differences that traditionally separate political parties remain.
Wheatley, the lone Democrat on the panel, would like to see some of the funds that are available put to use right away.
“What a missed opportunity here, with more than $600 million available in one-time funds – and not all of that money should be spent willy-nilly on projects,” Wheatley said. “We’re looking at the governor requesting $220 million to aid small business, $20 million to aid nonprofits. We could already have passed this portion of the budget, because it’s a stand-alone spending bill and these moneys could already be in the process of going out.”
McDaniel, who is chair of the Senate Budget Committee, had a different perspective.
“My view, and probably the majority of the General Assembly’s view, is let’s be cautious,” McDaniel said. “Let’s not assume that everything’s going to get back to normal and frankly, not just normal. We’re assuming a not-insignificant amount of growth in the balance of this fiscal year, plus all of next fiscal year, in order to get the kind of projections we are talking about here.”
McDaniel expressed disappointment that Gov. Andy Beshear’s plan was rolled out to the General Assembly without a lot of detail and added that there were some “pretty significant holes in it.”
Wheatley and Thayer also had very different opinions about SB2 and other legislation focused on limiting the governor’s emergency powers.
Wheatley said legislators were not allowed adequate time to review SB2 before it was voted out of committee. Thayer said there has been a lot recent discussion during the term of both Democrat and Republican Governors over the imbalance of power between the branches of state government.
Lawmakers have returned to their home districts, but will return to Frankfort on February 2, to resume the session.
Click here to get more news from the Bulldog Report