Economy & Finance

Lawmakers start Kentucky session aiming for cooperation

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— With the rise of new leaders, lawmakers convened a legislative session on Tuesday amid hopes for cooperation in Kentucky’s split Legislature, where a Republican-controlled Senate and a Democratic majority in the House have been butting heads for more than a decade.

Manchester Republican Robert Stivers officially begins his duties as Senate president, having pledged to work cooperatively with House Democrats and Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear.

“I think there is an almost universal feeling that there is going to be more cooperation and unity,” said state Rep. Tom Riner, D-Louisville. “The way Stivers has described his leadership traits, the type of person he is, I think he will strive for harmony.”

The legislative session started at noon Tuesday and is scheduled to end on March 26.

Lawmakers are expected to deal with some tough issues, including reforming the state’s tax code and returning financial solvency to the pension plan for government retirees. The always-divisive issue of legislative redistricting also could be on the table, as could a push by Beshear to legalize casino-style gambling.

For the past year, lawmakers have been focused on the state’s pension system, trying to find a way to deal with a $33 billion unfunded liability. A legislative task force that spent months studying the issue recommended pumping in more money without saying where the money would come from.

Beshear said he wants lawmakers to pass a package of tax reforms. A group of experts appointed by Beshear to review the state’s tax code proposed a model late last year that would generate about $690 million a year in additional revenue.

Legislative leaders haven’t yet decided how to approach redistricting or gambling.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, has said he wants to move as quickly as possible to redraw boundaries around legislative districts. Stivers said lawmakers aren’t rushed because the next round of legislative elections isn’t until 2014.

A legislative redistricting plan approved last year was later rejected by the Kentucky Supreme Court. Justices found that the districts were not balanced by population and had to be reworked to comply with the “one person, one vote” mandate in federal and state law.

Beshear is proposing that lawmakers consider a constitutional amendment that would legalize casino-style gambling. It’s a proposal that has been introduced every year since he took office in 2007, but has never garnered enough support to pass.
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