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Kentucky Chamber Hosts 2016 Legislative Preview

Josh James

Monday, the governor, state lawmakers, experts, and lobbyists converged on Lexington to weigh in on the prospects and challenges for the upcoming 2016 General Assembly.

Medicaid Remix

As Gov. Matt Bevin mulls changes to the state's Medicaid expansion, a small group of Kentucky lawmakers are also investigating tweaks and alternate models. Sen. Julie Raque Adams was on hand to discuss the early signals coming from the legislature.

When asked what might be in store for Kentuckians who signed up under the expanded taxpayer-funded health insurance offered under the Affordable Care Act, the most frequently referenced state is Indiana, but Raque Adams cautioned that nothing is written in stone.

"It's not hard and fast that he's going to go ahead with the Indiana model, but I think he wants to extract certain portions of the Indiana model which are working for that state," she said.

Instituting an Indiana-like model would require a lengthy application process with the federal government. If enacted, the incentive-based system could see Medicaid recipients - especially single working adults without children - paying into health savings accounts or supplying co-pays. Advocates argue the change trims costs for the state while getting recipients more invested in their own care.

Kentucky Hospital Association President Michael Rust said his organization is also looking to Arkansas and Maryland for ideas on how to rein in costs while maintaining access for those in need.

Raque Adams says, left unchanged, Kentucky would need another two-and-a-half million taxpayers to fund the healthcare expansion implemented under the last administration. Former Gov. Steve Beshear maintained that the expansion would more than pay for itself over the long haul through job creation and a healthier population.

Keeping the Fuel Tax Afloat

Kentucky lawmakers performed a last minute save during the 2015 legislative session on the state's dwindling gas tax, but many challenges remain down the road.

With vehicle efficiency standards  continuing to rise and wholesale fuel costs in free fall in recent years, states across the country have been grappling with shrinking road funds - the dollars often set aside for transportation and infrastructure projects. And though state legislators stopped the bleeding by freezing the tax at 26 cents per gallon floor this year, lawmakers see trouble on the horizon as more hybrids and electric cars hit the streets.

"As people drive those cars, buy those electric-gas hybrids, they're going to be contributing less and less to the road fund," Juva Barber with Kentuckians for Better Transportation told the audience. "...Parner that with the fact that, for those of us who may not choose and electric vehicle but we buy a new vehicle within the next four years, we're going to get better gas mileage than we do today because of a mandate."

Barber says, while fewer than 100 Kentuckians currently drive all-electric vehicles, it's worth considering how the state plans to make those drivers pay "their fair share" of road costs.

Kentucky had faced a nearly 10 cent drop this year in the gas tax -- with each penny representing about $30 million in lost revenue. Even with 2015's compromise legislation, the state still came up close to $130 million short.

Education Agenda

The newly-minted Kentucky Commissioner of Education says he's keeping an open mind on charter schools, but he opposes any legislation that would shift funds away from public schools.

The former Georgia Department of Education chief of staff told conference-goers that he could envision limited openings for charters, which have been championed by incoming Gov. Matt Bevin.

"I've seen some places where they can be really, really effective. I think that there are conditions that are more conducive to them being successful than others. Certainly in our low-performing, especially urban districts, that's a great place to start," he said.

Pruitt sounded less amenable, however, to Bevin's calls to uproot the Common Core education standards adopted in 2010.

"Repealing standards just pulls the rug out from under teachers and for me we've got to take care of our teachers and kids," he answered.

The commissioner has also expressed optimism about the repeal of the 2001 federal No Child Left Behind law, calling the legislation an effort that was "thrust upon states by people who really didn’t understand about states and districts."

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.