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Legislative efforts continue in summer

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As the days grow shorter (and hopefully cooler) and the children return to school, it is a good time to review summer activities.  In general, the most visible work of the state legislature is during our winter session but committees continue to meet to gain information and review potential legislation during the summer.  I am the chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee and I serve on the Appropriations and Revenue Committee, the Economic Development, Tourism, and Labor Committee, and the Natural Resources and Energy Committee as well as several smaller budget subcommittees.

In the Transportation Committee, we have reviewed the impact of the new farm truck weight legislation and assessed the status of major projects needed to repair the winter storm damage. Next month, the committee will be taking testimony about the horrible parking situation at the Speedway.

The Appropriations and Revenue Committee is our budget committee. It has been reported that the state’s tax revenues have increased; however, Kentucky still struggles with an unemployment rate higher than our surrounding states. Members of the Administration testified about the new Medicaid managed care contracts they have signed.  It is still unclear to many of us how they intend to implement the new practices or even how much they will save. Lastly, on Sept. 30th, 2011, a little over seven weeks from now, Kentucky must make a $28 million dollar interest payment to the federal government on the nearly $1 billion loan we received for our depleted  Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund. At the end of July, Governor Beshear’s Budget Director informed the General Assembly that there is only $8 million in an account designated to make the interest payment and to everyone’s surprise, they have no plan to pay off the remaining $20 million.  The Administration also indicated they have no authority to move the necessary funds.

Consequently, every employer in Kentucky will lose their federal tax credit meaning your $63 per employee federal unemployment tax bill will jump to $420 per employee.  This will be a financial tsunami sweeping away over $600 million from Kentucky business, large and small.  Because Kentucky is fighting to create new jobs and keep the ones we have, I am very concerned about the impact this unemployment insurance tax increase will have on your ability as a business owner to be a job creator. While no one wants to return for a Special Session, Senate President David Williams called on the Governor to give a reason why he should not bring the General Assembly back to authorize the fund transfer and save employers a huge tax increase that will not only discourage jobs from coming to Kentucky but may very well lose those we already have. Thus far, we have not heard from the Administration what they intend to do about the problem.

The Economic Development, Tourism, and Labor Committee looked at where the contracts stood for certain state parks to obtain alcohol licenses. It is hoped that this will increase the profitability of the state park system.

The Interim Joint Committee on Natural Resources and Environment has heard testimony on proposed federal regulatory changes that will increase electric utility rates by about 20%.  These changes in how long-standing environmental laws as interpreted by the current federal administration are expected to result in Kentucky job losses due to those increased electric utility costs.  Representatives of the Public Service Commission have also testified on the future impact of increased federal regulation of electric utilities.

Ernie Harris represents the 26th District in the Kentucky Senate, which includes Carroll, Henry, Oldham, Trimble and part of Jefferson County. He serves on the Appropriations and Revenue Committee, the Agricultural and Natural Resources Committee, the State and Local Government Committee and the Banking and Insurance Committee. Contact him at (800) 372-7181 or TTY (800) 896-0305.