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As most of you are aware, the 2012 Session of the Kentucky General Assembly gaveled in at noon Jan. 3. Being an even numbered year, this is considered a long session because legislators will be developing the two-year budget for the state.
Much has been made of the fiscal challenges that lay ahead for your legislators. Our tight budget situation has not been overstated, and only through prudent and practical measures will we be able to craft a responsible bi-annual budget. The fact that we are facing a projected $500 million shortfall over the biennium speaks volumes to the problem we are faced with resolving. And this sum does not include a $200 million request for Medicaid, $120 million for SEEK school funding, as well as requests for corrections, health insurance for state employees, and our public pension system.
Our public employee pension system has a $25 billion unfunded liability. The Senate has offered multiple plans in the past to move future state employees to a 401k-style plan (this proposal would not include teachers or current employees) commonly found in the private sector. This would be a responsible solution because it would not only protect current employees but protect taxpayers as well. Because of what is called the “inviolable contract,” under the current plan, public dollars will be tagged first to the pension system and then to other areas of state government such as education, infrastructure, social services and corrections. As you can see, the unfunded liability, if left unaddressed, will put an incredible strain on public services.
In addition to the budget, as the chairman of the Transportation Committee, the “road plan” for the next two years will understandably occupy a considerable amount of my time as well as of my colleagues. Our new Medicaid Managed Care Plan is off to a predictably rocky start and is sure to demand precious hours out of the legislative calendar.
While the budget, redistricting, the road plan, funding unemployment insurance and Medicaid Managed Care are among the central issues, we obviously have a host of other public policy initiatives that will divide our time as well. Sudafed as a prescription drug, illegal immigration, informed consent, a state debt ceiling, tax reform, and improving college readiness are just a few other topics that will surely surface.
Furthermore, the Senate awaits a proposal from the governor on expanded gambling, an issue that he says he will push.
While the interim has been full and I have enjoyed working and discussing the issues with many of you, I look forward to even more contact during the session. Messages for me can be left toll-free by dialing 1-800-372-7181 or TTY 1-800-896-0305. You can also find us online at www.lrc.state.ky.us.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to serve you, and I wish all of you a very happy, healthy and prosperous New Year.
Senator Ernie Harris, R-Crestwood, is the chairman of the Transportation Committee. He also serves on the Appropriations and Revenue Committee, the Budget Review Subcommittee on General Government, the Budget Review Subcommittee on Transportation, the Economic Development, Tourism and Labor Committee and the Natural Resources and Energy Committee. He represents the 26th District including Carroll, Henry, Oldham, Trimble counties as well as a portion of Jefferson County.