TheTimesTribune.com, Corbin, KY

State News

February 6, 2014

Session moving slowly in Frankfort

CORBIN — By Ronnie Ellis / CNHI News Service

One day after Gov. Steve Beshear called for tax reform and one-third of the way through the 60-day General Assembly session, even some lawmakers were talking about the slow pace of legislation.

“We’re passing so many bills it’s making my head spin,” Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, D-Louisville, said tongue-in-cheek as she left Wednesday’s House session.

She was on her way to a caucus of House Democrats where they were to discuss a bill to hike the minimum wage sponsored by Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the capitol, where Republicans are in control of the Senate, the GOP planned to caucus on a bill offering a constitutional amendment on expanded gambling. Majority Caucus Chairman Dan Seum, R-Louisville, is the sponsor of that measure.

Even more than in most years, the political implications of major legislation are occupying the thoughts of lawmakers in both parties. Republicans want to take over the House, which Democrats control 54-46, and all 100 House seats and 19 Senate seats will be on this year’s ballot.

And everyone is watching the U.S. Senate race for the seat presently held by Republican Mitch McConnell.

Just in case anyone doubts that, a New York Times reporter was walking the capitol hallways Wednesday interviewing people about the race, McConnell and his likely Democratic opponent in the fall, Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes.

On top of that, lawmakers confront an unpleasant budget reality: another round of painful cuts to a budget already reduced by $1.6 billion over six years or find a way to come up with more money. The latter usually involves a word no lawmaker wants to utter in an election year — “taxes.”

Then again, perhaps gambling is the answer for some lawmakers.

Seum’s measure would allow voters to approve casinos at up to seven locations and specify how the state revenues are spent. House Speaker Pro Tem Larry Clark, D-Louisville, has his own amendment in the House which would simply ask voters to authorize the legislature to establish casino gambling.

But Stumbo and Clark have said the House will wait to see if the Senate acts on Seum’s bill because previous efforts to pass expanded gaming died in the Senate.

Seum was expected to tell his Republican colleagues Wednesday afternoon that they have only two choices if they want more money for the badly strapped budget: gambling or tax reform. There’s also speculation that McConnell’s or Grimes’ campaigns believe placing the measure on this fall’s ballot when the Senate race will be decided benefits one or the other.

Stumbo, who is an ally of Grimes and her father Jerry Lundergan and delights in jabbing at McConnell, said he’d heard those arguments but thinks the issue would “be a wash,” benefiting or hurting neither McConnell nor Grimes.

Meanwhile, he dodged a reporter’s question about whether he is having trouble finding votes to raise the minimum wage in three yearly installments to $10.10 an hour from the present $7.25. That bill has implications for the Senate race, too, because Grimes has called for passage of a similar bill on the federal level and criticized McConnell for opposing it.

Republican Rep. Jim DeCesare, R-Bowling Green, has filed an amendment to Stumbo’s bill which would repeal prevailing wages on education projects.

Stumbo said he expects Republicans to oppose his bill and he also said DeCesare’s amendment “is a little bit troublesome. But we’ll see where the caucus is on (the bill).”

Stumbo again questioned some aspects of Beshear’s tax reform proposal, although he said lawmakers owe Beshear the courtesy of keeping an open mind on the issue.

On Tuesday, he questioned tax breaks for the bourbon industry which he said is quite profitable. On Wednesday, Stumbo said he wants to hear an explanation of why Beshear chose to apply the sales tax to services like automobile repairs, noting that would “disproportionately impact people in lower income brackets.”

RONNIE ELLIS writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at rellis@cnhi.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.

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