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Even before the House of Representatives passed its $17.5 billion budget proposal, the Senate Appropriations and Revenue Committee had our first meeting to discuss some of the tax measures that affect business. I am very concerned that these measures will hinder job creation. In the committee, I heard testimony from 10 business representatives who discussed how taxing businesses, including farms, which are already struggling would have a negative impact on employment. Also, higher business taxes would not encourage, and even discourage, companies that are looking to expand or locate in Kentucky. The Appropriations and Revenue Committee will continue meeting next week.
The House of Representatives also passed out the state road plan. Again, I am troubled by the manner in which road projects were funded across the state with some counties benefiting greatly and others barely touched. As a member of the Senate Transportation Committee, I am working on developing a more equitable and just road plan. Kentucky’s road system is crucial to our economic development and it should not be left up to the political winds.
In terms of legislative action, the Senate passed several bills on education, agriculture, and transparent government. Senate Bill 163 directs the Department of Education to develop teaching strategies geared toward helping middle and high school students improve their reading skills necessary to understand subject area concepts, for example, science and math textbooks. College instructors were noticing that some high school graduates were having difficulty comprehending higher level textbooks. SB 163 will help align the standards of high schools with the requirements of post-secondary education.
Senate Bill 180 helps address the shortage of math and science teachers in disadvantaged areas of Kentucky by allowing for an alternative certification process for Teach for America corps members. Teach for America is a prestigious program that recruits very bright college graduates with high academic achievements. In 2009, there were 35,000 applicants with only 4,000 chosen for the program. These teachers will serve to enhance our teaching ranks.
Senate Bill 175 encourages transparent government by directing almost all personal service contracts (PSC), memorandums of understanding (MOA), and tax incentive agreements be reviewed and approved by your elected officials, bipartisan members of a General Assembly committee, instead of a government bureaucrat. In this way, there is stronger accountability for the spending of your tax dollars.
Senate Bill 176 allows state government, local governments, and universities to purchase certain goods and services through the use of reverse auctions. A reverse auction is similar to a regular, bidding auction, except that prices go down via competition. In a reverse auction the current bid is public, and other bidders can bid under the current bid to try to receive the project. It is similar in concept to an online auction (such as e-bay) except that instead of bidding higher prices to get the item, you would bid under the current bidder to get the project, driving the prices down.
We also passed several agriculture-related bills. Senate Joint Resolution 177 and House Bill 175 address the issue of bees and their important role in the pollination of our crops. SJR 177 directs the State Apiarist (Bee-Keeper) to work with the Transportation Cabinet and with local beekeeping clubs to identify state-owned rights-of-way that could be made into pollinator habitat sites for bees. The local bee clubs would be responsible for funding the purchase of bee-friendly flowers and plants. House Bill 175 will also add bee-friendly plants and flowers to reclaimed mine sites. Bees are a critical player in our crop-cycle and these two bills are an easy way to encourage the wild bee population which in turn enhances our agricultural production.
Kentucky is the Horse Capital of the World and we try to take care of these beautiful animals. House Bill 251 streamlines the process for recovering stray horses. Under this bill, the kind-hearted people who find stray horses would be able to find homes for them more quickly. When someone is trying to do the right thing, government red-tape should not be a road-block.
With less than two full weeks left, momentum is building. Please feel free to call our two toll-free message lines with any questions or comments, 1-800-372-7181 or TTY 1-800-896-0305. You are also welcome to call me at home at 270-692-6945. Our Web site is www.lrc.state.ky.us.