Lawmakers call session a success

Members of the Owensboro area’s legislative delegation said Thursday morning that the 2019 General Assembly session was a success, with more than 200 bills passed, improvements to school safety made and progress completed on reducing pension contribution spikes for agencies such as universities and health departments.

But legislators’ work on pension increases was vetoed by Gov. Matt Bevin, who said he would call a special session before July for lawmakers to fix what Bevin sees as problems with the bill.

Area House and Senate members who spoke at Thursday’s forum at the Greater Owensboro Chamber of Commerce said Bevin should not call a special session without first putting forward a pension plan that both the House and Senate will accept.

The forum, for chamber members, was attended by Republicans Sen. Matt Castlen, Rep. Suzanne Miles, Rep. Jim Gooch and Rep. Scott Lewis. Democrat Rep. Jim Glenn did not attend.

“When you consider that we didn’t have a lot of time, we did get a lot passed” during the 30-day legislative session, Gooch said. Bills legislators mentioned as successes were a school safety bill, and a bill that reduced the property tax rate for heavy equipment such as farm machinery and exempted non-profit groups from some taxes.

But lawmakers said they disagreed with Bevin’s veto of House Bill 358, which kept employer contribution rates for quasi-government agencies the same for the next year, while giving those agencies a way to exit the Kentucky Retirement System. Quasi-government agencies include health departments, rape crisis centers and domestic violence shelters. The bill also affected certain state universities.

“I don’t know if there will be a special session” unless the House, Senate and Bevin “can be on the same page” to revise House Bill 358, Lewis said.

Miles, who is a member of the House majority leadership, said Bevin has to put forward a plan lawmakers will accept before attempting to call a special session.

“The main thing I’ve advocated since the veto is making sure the governor brings us something ahead of time, and all parties are in agreement,” Miles said. The bill lawmakers passed was the result of a “lot of work” with input from the universities, she said.

“The Senate and the House passed a bill there was agreement on,” Castlen said. Now, “the governor … has to present a bill to the House and Senate.”

Gooch said he thinks the governor needs to “take the lead” on revising the pension bill.

When asked their views on allowing larger cities like Owensboro the authority to establish local option sales taxes, lawmakers said a change like that would best be made as part of a comprehensive tax reform package.

Smaller cities are able to establish local option sales taxes. Obtaining the ability for Owensboro to start a local option sales tax is a priority for the chamber.

“We need to be careful when we talk about changing things for local rule,” Miles said.

Gooch said he thinks “everyone in the General Assembly recognizes local government needs more options to raise revenue,” but it would need to be part of a future “comprehensive tax reform package.”

Lewis, whose district includes Ohio County, said the local option sales tax has been used effectively in Beaver Dam to create an amphitheater and spur downtown development.

“We just need to make sure when we pass something like that, there are safeguards,” he said.