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Bevin Urges Lawmakers To Slay Sacred Cows In Annual Address

Josh James
Gov. Matt Bevin delivers his second State of the Commonwealth address to a joint session of the 2017 General Assembly.

In his State of the Commonwealth address Wednesday night, Gov. Matt Bevin hailed the early work of the new Republican majorities in Frankfort and vowed to make Kentucky a national model in areas ranging from manufacturing to post-Affordable Care Act health reforms.

"You asked for change to come and change has come," the governor announced.

In his second speech before a joint session of the General Assembly, Bevin appealed to legislators to think "big and bold" when tackling the state's challenges - from drawing down Kentucky's multi-billion dollar pension debt to overhauling education to reforming an antiquated tax code. It was on that last note that the Republican may have raised a few eyebrows among fellow conservatives. Bevin said the state can't afford tax neutral reforms that leave more 300 loopholes and exemptions intact.

"I'm talking about bringing every single sacred cow that people think can't be touched on a tax front, bringing them all out of the barn. And some of those sacred cows are going to be returned to the barn as sacred cows and some of them are going to be turned into hamburger," he predicted.

The governor went on to promise decisive action in a number of areas: launching charter schools, enacting tort reform and medical review panels, rolling back regulation, and charting a path for other states on Medicare as Congress moves to dismantle the federal healthcare law passed under President Obama.

"As the Affordable Care Act, which has turned out to be anything but, goes away, what will take its place, how will it be done, whose responsibility will it be, what will Kentucky do. There are things we're wrestling with, but we have proposed something that has the ability to lead the nation in terms of entitlement reform," Bevin said.

While Republicans successfully fast-tracked anti-abortion measures and "right-to-work" legislation in the early days of the 2017 session, lawmakers aren't expected to mark those remaining items off of Bevin's to-do list so quickly. Tax and pension reform, in particular, have been earmarked for a special session sometime later this year.

Credit Josh James / WUKY
Senate President Robert Stivers (R-Manchester) and House Speaker Jeff Hoover (R-Jamestown) take questions from the media following the governor's State of the Commonwealth address.

Defining Tax Neutral

Bevin stressed the urgency of a tax code overhaul in his address, but his suggestion that Kentucky can't afford "tax neutral" reforms left questions for many lawmakers - including those in his party.

Details about what shape the reforms could take this year have so far been vague. Bevin has long championed the repeal of the inventory and inheritance - or death - tax, but it will be up to lawmakers to locate new funding sources for that revenue while also chipping away at the state's massive pension debt. Asked about the possibility of non-revenue-neutral tax reform, House Minority Leader Rocky Atkins told reporters he'll wait until he sees specifics.

"We need to see if we're going to grow revenue, how we're going to do that, and who it's going to impact before we start talking about whether that's a good thing or a bad thing, but it's up [Bevin] to sell that as we move forward," the Sandy Hook Democrat said.

Newly-minted Republican House Speaker Jeff Hoover said a lot hinges on definitions.

"How do you define exactly more revenue - is it just particular increases in taxes or is it expanding the base by doing some other things?" the leader asked.

Those things include measures like the recently passed right-to-work bill, which Republicans hope will attract major employers to the commonwealth, grow jobs, and generate more tax dollars.

Wooing The Next Big Company

Bevin singled out the young 2017 session's moves on right-to-work and prevailing wage for special praise, saying they're already making the state more attractive to prospective businesses. The governor revealed  Swedish car company Volvo considered locating in the commonwealth and might have - if the state had acted sooner on the right-to-work law.

"Volvo wanted to be here," Bevin said. "They could have been here, would have been here had we been serious about passing right-to-work, had we shown any interest in them as a company with any real significance."

But Democrats remain skeptical of the net effects. Former House Majority Leader Rocky Atkins said a philosophical difference remains between the two parties.

"I think you build strong economies by not driving down wages with the legislation like right-to-work and prevailing wage. I think you lift up the middle class through stronger wages and putting more money in people's pocket that will invest it back in the economy," he argued.

On The Media

In an ending flourish that echoed accusations frequently leveled by President Donald Trump, Bevin capped off his speech with a few critical words for the traditional media, saying that it is "becoming more tabloid like" and "dying for a reason."

"It's breathlessly discovering things and talking about things that are irrelevant while ignoring things like murder rates, ignoring things like failing schools, ignoring things like discrimination suits being filed against people that are constitutional officers in the Commonwealth of Kentucky," he said, likely referring to a 2016 whistleblower lawsuit filed against Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear in 2016. 

Bevin said he plans to take to live forms of social media more often to get his message out to Kentuckians.

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.
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