State legislators spoke before a packed conference room Thursday morning as part of The Greater Owensboro Chamber of Commerce’s Legislative Recap, where three state representatives and one state senator addressed the recent Kentucky General Assembly session held in Frankfort.
Representing Daviess County this past session were Representatives Suzanne Miles (7th District), Jim Gooch (12th District) Scott Lewis (14th District), as well as State Senator Matt Castlen. All four candidates were elected last November and represent the Republican party.
Although lawmakers held a short legislative session earlier this year, Miles and the rest of her colleagues felt it was a successful one.
“As [Miles] said, this was a successful session. It was a short session and, you know, when we operate under constraints, there’s not a lot of time to get a lot passed,” Gooch said.
Because of it being a short session, any budget or revenue bills required a three-fifths majority vote from both chambers in order to be passed. However, Gooch said some of the issues that lawmakers created last year were resolved, including school safety and tax issues.
Lewis, the only newcomer to state government out of the four, called his first legislative session “fast and furious.” A former teacher and superintendent for the Ohio County School District, Lewis was able to file House Bill 504 — a pension reform bill — hours before the state’s deadline to file proposals.
“Learning the ropes — I think I’ll be much more prepared for the next session,” Lewis said, adding he would continue to fight for pension reform as he believed public schools in the local area were some of the best in the state.
The representatives were asked on-the-spot questions that came from the audience and, inevitably, one of the major talking points included tax reform.
“I think you’re going to see that every year we go there, we’re making a step toward a consumption-based tax,” Castlen said. “That’s referring to a consumption-based tax that local government would have the opportunity to impose at different levels of small business, different levels of citizens.”
Castlen said he felt the state relied too heavily on citizens’ income tax dollars, and brought up O.Z. Tyler Distillery as a missed opportunity to attain tax revenue, though he did mention it would be good for Lewis’s district, the majority of which covers Ohio County.
Miles talked about home rule and the flexibility in local government tax structure.
“I am very supportive of as many local decision as possible to be made at the local level,” Miles said. “I do think we need to encourage that, but we also need to help people have some safe blocks to make sure we don’t objectify. We do have some communities that have not made the best choices with the funding they’ve had and, a lot of times, then it falls back on the state.”
Gooch and Lewis said there would not be a special session before July 1 to discuss the pension issue. However, each representative said they believed the two parties would have to come together before any bill could be passed in the future.
“We had a compromise with the Senate. We came up with a bill and we passed it. The governor vetoed it, and we didn’t have the chance to override it, so I think it’s on the governor to take the lead and get the parties together and come up with something on that,” Gooch said. “We have to understand how important this pension issue is. It’s a serious problem.”
Other topics brought up for discussion included building a new judicial center in Daviess County and the addition of a second Family Court judge, as well as transportation projects such as the I-165 spur project.
After the recap, Gooch and Lewis, who reside outside Daviess County, said they appreciated the Chamber for hosting the event because it gave them the chance to hear concerns and ideas from a number of the people they represent, but don’t always get to converse with.
“Miles and Castlen, they live here and so you seem them a lot, so for those of us who live in another county but represent this area–we like these kinds of things, so we can talk with the people and they can get to know us a little bit better too,” Gooch said afterward.