A Legislative Perspective on the Kentucky General Assembly with State Representative Rick Rand
FRANKFORT – Late last week, Kentucky lost one of its true statesmen with the passing of former U.S. Senator Wendell Ford.
Since then, there have been numerous accolades about his many accomplishments in Washington, D.C. – from helping to write and pass the Family and Medical Leave Act to promoting Kentucky’s signature coal and tobacco industries – but it is worth noting that several actions taken during his time as governor continue to benefit Kentuckians today.
Although he served in that office for just three years, leaving in 1974 to begin his tenure in the U.S. Senate, his administration overhauled how state government works and it also implemented the coal-severance tax while carving out the sales tax exemption for food.
To better understand the administrative changes he made, it helps to go back nearly 80 years, when the governor’s chief duty was overseeing the more than five dozen boards, commissions and agencies that carried out most state services. It was a haphazard system, but in 1936, the General Assembly and Gov. A.B. “Happy” Chandler re-organized this work under 10 departments.
By the early 1970s, however, a steady increase in state services meant a rise in departments as well, to levels not much different from those in the 1930s. As a result, Governor Ford re-organized them into a much more manageable set of six cabinets, and while that number has since doubled, the principles guiding that change have largely remained the same over the last 40 years.
The story is similar for the coal-severance tax he helped to champion. Its creation in 1972 enabled the state to remove the sales tax on food, and it has since pumped hundreds of millions dollars back into the coal counties, which receive half of the revenue.
This money is now used for such things as boosting economic development, extending needed infrastructure and supporting energy-related research. Last year, the General Assembly added to that list when it set aside $2 million a year for scholarships to help coal-county college students pursue their bachelor’s degree while staying close to home.
Strengthening the public postsecondary system was also a priority for Gov. Ford. His leadership helped Kentucky’s two newest universities at the time – the University of Louisville, which had been a municipally supported school for decades, and Northern Kentucky University – get off to a good start.
Sen. Ford was scheduled to lie in state in the Capitol’s Rotunda this past Sunday. It’s a fitting tribute given all that he accomplished for Kentucky, and it’s just a short walk from there to the governor’s office where he served. It’s also close to where it all began for him politically.
That came just two floors up, in the Kentucky House chamber where his dad served while he was an eight-year-old honorary page. It was in there where the young Ford gave his first public remarks.
Few then could have guessed just how much he would do for Kentucky, but as we mourn his passing, there are few now unaware of the legacy he leaves behind. He truly made a difference.
Next week, the General Assembly will return to the Capitol to begin the main portion of the 2015 Regular Session. We have 26 working days and a long agenda to cover.
If you would like to let me know your thoughts about any issue affecting the state, you can always write to me at Room 366B, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort KY 40601; or you can email me at [email protected]
To leave a message for me or for any legislator, call toll-free at 800-372-7181. For those with a hearing impairment, the number is 800-896-0305.
I hope to hear from you soon.