New General Assembly session is just around the corner

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By Rick Rand

In less than seven weeks, the General Assembly will meet for what will be the fifth odd-year regular session since voters made them possible in 2000.

During those 30 legislative days, the first five of which are dedicated to administrative matters like electing House and Senate leaders, legislators will consider dozens of issues.  Earlier this month, the General Assembly’s administrative arm, known as the Legislative Research Commission, issued its annual report on what some of those might include. The commission’s findings, on top of legislation already pre-filed, give us a clearer idea of what we can expect.

Our first priority, of course, will be to see what we can do to shore up the budget, which is on pace to have about $300 million less than expected. While we have dealt with larger deficits in the past, we never had to tackle one in a year in which spending was already set by the legislature to be less than the year before.

Even in this tough climate, there is a growing possibility that not one but two types of tax incentives could be offered, in the hope that they would attract significantly more private investment.

One of those would be to exempt military pay from the state income tax.  Ten states, including four surrounding us, already provide similar exemptions.  Combat pay is already excluded in Kentucky, but expanding that could be a strong encouragement for families who work at military installations like Fort Campbell or Fort Knox and either live in other states or are considering it.  It would also be a fitting tribute to their willingness to serve their country.

The other incentive package would be designed to lure more television and movie production to the Commonwealth.  Other states have been able to capitalize on this trend, and have seen tens of millions of dollars be spent as a result while reaping positive exposure in many cases.

One of the legislature’s top long-term priorities is to dramatically increase the number of Kentuckians attending a postsecondary school. Unfortunately, it has become increasingly evident that higher costs are having a negative impact on that goal.

During the first three years of this decade, for example, our public postsecondary schools saw 20 percent growth in the number of undergraduates.  From 2004 to 2007, however, growth was only seven percent, and this fall, enrollment at the Kentucky Community and Technical College System actually dropped, a first since the system’s creation in 1998.

Governor Beshear’s recently created task force on higher education has already begun meeting to see what can be done to significantly increase the number of those attending college.  Earlier this summer, the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce recommended a closer look at a program in which the state would cover any tuition costs beyond the equivalent of what a student could earn working 40-hour weeks in the summer and up to 15 hours a week during school at a minimum-wage job.

Younger children are the focus of three initiatives being pushed by advocates in 2009.  That includes the possibility of raising the drop-out age from 16 to 18; increasing the level of physical education in schools; and improving the state’s high rate of premature births.  Only four states have a worse rate.

Voters who suffered long lines during this month’s election may approve of a proposal that would allow early voting, something many states have already adopted.  Right now, Kentucky is considered to have one of the most restrictive rules in the nation.

These are just a few of the topics that could come up when the legislative session gets fully underway in February.  Their success, as always, depends on the support of people like you.

That is why I always encourage you to let me know your views on issues involving state government.  If you would like to contact me, either now or during the legislative session, you can write to me at Room 351C, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, KY 40601.

You can also leave a message for me or for any legislator at 800-372-7181.  For the deaf or hard of hearing, the number is 800-896-0305.

I hope to hear from you soon.

Representative Rick Rand