By: James Pilcher
Given that Kentucky just went through a contentious election cycle that included a fight for control of the state legislature, has a lame-duck governor and another contentious gubernatorial campaign coming next year, local business leaders aren’t too confident the General Assembly is going to get much done in its 30-day session set to begin in January.
That won’t stop them from trying. To that end, the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce is planning to release next week its list of eight priorities for the upcoming session. Those include more work on the regional and statewide heroin epidemic, allowing public-private partnerships on major infrastructure projects such as the Brent Spence Bridge and even updating the state’s telecommunications laws and regulations. The chamber will present this list to the area’s legislative caucus at an event Wednesday night.
“Overall, nobody is anticipating an extraordinarily productive session this time around,” said Trey Grayson, the chamber’s president and chief operating officer. “So that is why we’ve scaled back and are just highlighting a few positions that we think are the most important.”
The full list includes:
- Allowing public-private partnerships on infrastructue, which are also allowed in Ohio and Indiana.
- Allowing cities, towns and even counties a local option sales tax up to 1 percent that would be voted on by the general public for specific projects. One estimate shows that could create an additional $25 million annually in revenue for Boone, Campbell and Kenton counties combined.
- Creating a historic tax credit for redevelopment projects. Grayson said this is a pressing issue in areas such as Newport and Covington, which are desperate for redevelopment dollars.
- Creating medical review panels that would “provide expert review” of lawsuits against health care providers and perhaps even cap such lawsuits as is done in all other surrounding states.
- Building the framework to allow “innovation districts” and create business accelerators and tax credits to allow small startups to “cluster” in areas to build synergies.
- Reforming the state’s telecommunications policies, especially since fiber-optic technology has been slower to spread in Northern Kentucky than in Southwest Ohio.
- Adopting an outcomes-based funding system for post-secondary education providers such as Northern Kentucky University and Gateway Community and Technical College. This is becoming an urgent issue locally as area manufacturers seek trained employees, but Gateway in particular has missed targets for advanced manufacturing graduates.
- Implementing a comprehensive plan to tackle the region’s and state’s heroin epidemic.
Grayson, who served as Kentucky’s secretary of state between 2004 and 2011, said he knows the Legislature won’t get to most of the items on the chamber’s list, but he is confident that at least heroin and the public-private partnership proposals will be addressed. In fact, several area legislators, including state Sen. Chris McDaniel, R-Taylor Mill, state Sen. John Schickel, R-Union, and state Reps. Addia Wuchner, R-Burlington, and Joe Fischer, R-Fort Thomas, have already prefiled heroin bills for next year’s session. A previous bill that would have increased treatment options and toughened penalties against heroin traffickers stalled last year, with both parties blaming the other.
“We’ve already endorsed Sen. McDaniel’s bill, and I’m sure this will all get compiled in Frankfort,” he said. “We have it listed last in our presentation, but it is important for everyone. I have no doubt at all that we will come up with a solution this time.”
As for the so-called P3 initiative that would allow private entities to help construct, finance or operate public works projects such as bridges and roads, water works and sewer systems, Grayson said there is a large coalition in favor of it. Such a proposal reached the desk of Gov. Steve Beshear last year, but it also included an amendment that would have banned the use of tolls on the Brent Spence Bridge. Beshear vetoed the bill because of that.
Other opponents of the measure said it could allow financially strapped entities to enter into deals that perhaps they shouldn’t, allow private entities to profit unfairly from what has traditionally been a governmental function, create financial complications for governmental entities, and cloud public transparency into both the construction and operation of such projects.
“We understand that the Brent Spence discussion hijacked the process last year, and we’re hoping to avoid that,” Grayson said. “But we feel strongly that this should be a tool in the toolbox of governments … and it could allow private developers to come up with ideas for developments as well instead of just sitting around waiting for a (government bid).”