With the Kentucky General Assembly returning to its work today, the Bluegrass Institute urges legislators to make their sole constitutional obligation of passing a balanced budget their top priority.
Now isn’t the time to raise taxes and increase spending. There will already be enough of that occurring at both the federal and state levels to provide financial assistance to our fellow Kentuckians and Americans in response to the coronavirus-induced shutdowns of our country’s and commonwealth’s economies.
As the budget conference committee, which is comprised of members from both chambers, continues to meet and hammer out a two-year spending plan, we also offer the following recommendations regarding other policy proposals remaining in play during the legislative session:
- Pension-reform policies found in House Bill 613 rightly moves new university members of the Teachers’ Retirement System to a more sustainable and affordable hybrid retirement system, and House Bill 171 lowers quasi-government agencies’ pension payments in recognition that these groups’ liabilities differ widely not only from state agencies but also from each other. Please see our recommendations for how this good bill could be made into a great bill.
- Pass no tax increases. Now is not the time to increase Kentuckians’ tax burden, including proposed tax hikes on tobacco products, including vaping items, which would disproportionately affect poorer Kentuckians.
Not only should the tobacco tax go up in flames, but the legislature should dump the idea of raising fuel taxes. There are plenty of reasons these taxes should not be increased, including the fact that current revenues from the gas tax are being diverted away from their stated purpose of funding the building and repair of roads and bridges. Raising the tax during this COVID-19 meltdown would hinder Kentucky’s post-virus economic recovery.
Also, it appears the legislature won’t be passing a constitutional amendment to remove a taxpayer-friendly barrier against local governments adding to Kentuckians’ already-heavy tax burden. Attempts to pass House Bill 475 offer a reminder of the genius of our founding fathers, who set a high bar for changing the Constitution.
- Say “no” to the wrong kind of criminal justice reform. Senate Bill 15, known as “Marsy’s Law,” is named for a California woman who was stalked and killed in 1983 by her ex-boyfriend. Her family members were later confronted by the accused murderer whom they were not told had been released on bail. But Union Republican Sen. John Schickel, a former U.S. Marshal and local law enforcement officer, has written that “Kentucky has some of the best laws in the nation to keep crime victims informed,” adding that Westerfield’s bill is based on California law which attempts to fix what’s not broken in the Bluegrass State.
“The commonwealth already has the Kentucky Crime Victim Bill of Rights codified in KRS 421.500 to .576,” Schickel writes. “Under Kentucky’s existing law, Marsy’s family would have been notified before the individual was released from jail.”
State government must live within its means just like Kentucky families are forced to do during these difficult times. This can only be done with a budget that holds the line on spending, contains no tax increases and offers promise for a strong post-coronavirus recovery.