Kentucky Chamber leader says reforming taxes, investing in education are priorities for 2018 legislative session; but Adkisson says "air is being sucked out of the room by pensions," and that must be addressed first

The News Enterprise, Elizabethtown, Oct. 12, 2017

Kentucky chamber president says big changes to come in 2018 session
KATHERINE KNOTT

The Kentucky Chamber of Commerce would like to reform taxes and criminal justice and invest in education and infrastructure, among other priorities for this upcoming legislative session.

But first, the state has to re­form its pension system, which Kentucky Chamber of Commerce President Dave Adkisson called the “No. 1 threat” to the state’s stability.

Adkisson, who spoke Wednesday at the Hardin County Chamber of Commerce’s monthly luncheon, introduced the organization’s legislative agenda for the 2018 session.

“We have to deal with pensions and the 2018 budget so we can move onto a growth agenda,” he said.

Legislators are looking to reform the state’s pension systems during a special session this year. Adkisson said the state is drowning in pension debt and until the issue is addressed, other priorities might have to wait.

“The air is being sucked out of the room by pensions,” he said.

During his talk, Ad­kisson explained key terms related to the pension conversation, such as inviolable contract and structural changes. The contract refers to benefits employees were promised when they took a job. He said structural changes were an euphemism for adjusting benefits lawmakers see as not covered by the employment agreement.

In referring to the teachers’ retirement sys­tem, which was established in 1940, he said some structural changes were long overdue. Adkisson said Kentuckians, on average, live more than 16 years longer than their ancestors in the 1940s, which influences retirement expenses.

Gov. Matt Bevin and lawmakers expect to release their plan for pension reform this week. After pension reform, the General Assembly will start its 2018 session in January and tackle the budget.

Adkisson expects the 2018 budget session to be difficult, he said.

“The budget challenge will be greater than during the recession,” he said, adding Kentucky is facing a tough reality.

Looking ahead past the budget and pensions, workforce development, from finding workers to training them, is key to helping grow the state’s economy. Part of that includes teaching essential skills to students, which is part of the state chamber’s 2018 agenda.

Adkisson said businesses around the state are in need of workers who show up to work drug-free and on time. He mentioned the Work Ethic Certification program at Hardin County Schools as an example of how schools can integrate essential skills into curriculum.

“The student learns those things matter,” he said.

Overall, Adkisson said the 2018 session is shaping up to be a consequential one and big decisions could be made that will affect taxes, schools and many other budgets.

In 2017, he said the chamber chalked up 22 legislative victories on behalf of its business members, including passage of right-to-work legislation and repeal of the prevailing wage.

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