A Legislative Perspective on the Kentucky General Assembly with State Representative Rick Rand
FRANKFORT – For most of Kentucky’s history, early January in odd-numbered years has been set aside to give the General Assembly time to elect House and Senate leaders and determine the make-up of the chambers’ committees for the next two years.
That decades-old tradition didn’t change when voters approved annual sessions in 2000. Instead, these four days were incorporated as part of the odd-year session’s 30 working days, although this period remains distinct because legislation is normally not debated. That won’t begin until my colleagues and I return to the Capitol in early February.
For now, I’m happy to say that my committee assignments, which were announced on Friday, will continue to give me the opportunity to make sure our voice is heard on a variety of issues crucial to our legislative district. I am proud to serve again as chairman of the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee, which writes the state’s budget, and I will also serve on the Program Review Committee, which takes an in-depth look at a variety of issues and the effect they have on Kentucky.
While the House was focused on organizational matters last week, we are starting to see a list of priorities come together. That includes such major issues as tax and public pension reform, both of which were the subject of separate task forces last year, and tweaking legislation that has already played a major role in limiting prescription drug abuse.
In the House, another significant initiative will be increasing the transparency and accountability of our local special taxing districts, which range from library, health and airport boards to many of our public utilities. Our goal here is not to change how these entities are operated, but to ensure that the public can better track this form of spending, which the state auditor’s office found to be more than $2 billion a year. Too often, the numerous laws governing these districts can be confusing for citizens wanting to know more about how their money is being spent.
Although the House will not consider Senate legislation until later in the session, there already appears to be a strong consensus behind one of that chamber’s top priorities. Its members are working with Kentucky’s Secretary of State to make it much easier for our men and women in the military to vote on time in all elections. The current deadlines can be tough for some, especially those based overseas.
On Thursday, bipartisan support was clearly evident in another area: Giving most of our public four-year universities the authority to use $363 million of their own money to build some much-needed projects on their campuses. House and Senate leaders and numerous legislators from both parties joined with Governor Beshear and the college presidents as a show of support.
These projects, which range from new resident hall and academic space to a major upgrade of Commonwealth Stadium at the University of Kentucky, will not require any state tax dollars or new student fees. In fact, in what is believed to be a first for Kentucky, the athletic department at UK is giving a significant portion of money to the construction of a new science building at the school.
That wasn’t the only good news to come out of the Capitol on Thursday. We also learned that Kentucky had moved up to 10th among the states in Education Week’s annual rankings that track academic progress and other key indicators in our elementary and secondary schools. That’s up from 14th last year and 34th the year before.
In the subcategories, Kentucky got its best marks in the high standards we have set for our children; the quality of our teachers; and the classroom achievement we have seen from kindergarten through high school. If our economy continues to improve and we can boost education funding, our ranking should go even higher in the years ahead.
The final piece of good news came from the Office of State Budget Director, which reported that revenues through December – the halfway point of the fiscal year – were up 3.8 percent when compared to the same period in 2011. That’s well ahead of the 2.4 percent growth that the state’s budget was based on. Barring something unforeseen, that means we should end the fiscal year with at least some money left over.
As I mentioned, the General Assembly will not return until early February, but that does not mean you cannot let me know your thoughts or concerns about the state in the meantime. There are several ways to reach me. My address is Room 366B, 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. To learn more online, please visit www.lrc.ky.gov.
I hope to hear from you soon.