1:59 pm
Tue January 7, 2014

What To Look For During 2014 Kentucky General Assembly

Kentucky lawmakers have returned to the state capitol building for the 2014 General Assembly.
Credit Kevin Willis

As temperatures in Kentucky slowly climb out of the polar abyss, so too will state lawmakers emerge from their districts and trek to Frankfort for the opening day of the 2014 regular session of the Kentucky General Assembly.

The session got underway Tuesday.

Kentucky legislators will have until the relatively balmy date of April 15 to craft a biennial state budget, which will be a difficult task: Amid one of the toughest economic outlooks in recent memory, legislators will be forced to grapple with funding priority issues like reinvesting in K-12 education and funding nearly $900 in teachers' pension liabilities.

Many people, from political observers to politicians themselves, have estimated that in order to fully fund these and other priorities, an additional $400 million to $1 billion (or more) in revenue must be raised to plug the gap in spending.

But the state expects only $250 million in additional revenue.

Although the budget will be the front and center issue, here's a glimpse at some other legislative priorities:

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12:15 pm
Tue January 7, 2014

McConnell Files Paperwork For Re-election

Credit WKU PBS

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has officially filed his paperwork for re-election, and Kentucky's two other statewide-elected Republicans are lending their names to the effort.

McConnell's campaign says Sen. Rand Paul and state Agriculture Commissioner James Comer would sign McConnell's papers on Tuesday.

McConnell's campaign says it's releasing a new video that includes comments by Paul and Comer.

In the video, Paul praises McConnell's efforts to oppose the federal health-care overhaul and to push in support of a balanced budget amendment.

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10:52 am
Tue January 7, 2014

McConnell: Another Extension of Long-Term Unemployment Benefits Can't Add to "Unstainable Debt"

Kentucky’s senior U.S. Senator says any extension of long-term unemployment benefits must be paid for by cutting spending elsewhere.

Long-term unemployment compensation expired on December 28. Sixty Senators, mostly Democrats, voted Tuesday to open debate on legislation that would extend the program for three months.

Kentucky Republican Senators Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul voted against the procedure. In a speech on the Senate floor, McConnell said the Obama administration hasn’t done enough to improve the job prospects of those looking for work.

"Yes, we should work on solutions to support those who are out of work through no fault of their own. But there is no excuse to pass unemployment insurance legislation without also finding ways to create good, stable, high-paying jobs--and also trying to find the money to pay for it," Sen. McConnell said Tuesday.

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6:41 pm
Sun January 5, 2014

Madisonville Lawmaker Accused of Misusing Company Money

A Hopkins County lawmaker is accused of using company money to inappropriately fund campaign activities.

A complaint filed by shareholders of Liberty Rehabilitation alleges that Rep. Ben Waide used over thirty thousand dollars of that business's funds to bankroll campaigning.

Waide is the company’s president, and the suit further alleges the Madisonville Republican used company money to pay for unauthorized massages and a trip to St. Louis with his wife. Further, it claims he pocketed official state travel reimbursements charged to Liberty’s account.

The plaintiffs’ lawyer John Whitfield tells Kentucky Public Radio that Waide’s partners want the money back.

“My clients came to me a couple months ago, and were concerned about what they thought were improprieties going on, in terms of expenses that were being paid by Mr. Waide on behalf of the company. And so, when we got to looking into it, we confirmed that that, indeed, was the case," Whitfield said.

Waide’s attorney Todd P’Pool says the allegations are false and politically motivated.

The suit seeks to reclaim the stolen money plus damages and attorney’s fees.

9:31 am
Fri January 3, 2014

Complaint Accuses Kentucky Lawmaker of Misusing Funds

Representative Ben Waide, R-Madisonville
Credit Legislative Research Commission

The business partners of a western Kentucky lawmaker have filed a complaint alleging more than $31,000 in company funds have been misused since 2006.

Media reports say the complaint filed in Hopkins County Circuit Court claims Republican state Rep. Ben Waide of Madisonville improperly used company funds for campaign expenses and personal costs.

The complaint says Waide improperly diverted money from a physical therapy corporation he co-owns to buy campaign ads during his first run for state representative in 2010.

Waide calls the situation an "unfortunate business dispute" and says he's confident it will be resolved. His attorney, Todd P'Pool, says the allegations are untrue. 

Waide was elected to the General Assembly in 2010 and re-elected in 2012. He has said he'll run this year for Hopkins County judge-executive.

10:10 am
Thu January 2, 2014

Stivers Won't Support Gambling Bill that Includes Political Patronage

Kentucky's highest-ranking Republican lawmaker says he will oppose any expanded gambling measure that uses political patronage to garner support.

Kentucky Senate President Robert Stivers says while he is not opposed to gaming if it has unified support, he doesn’t want the issue to be advanced by a trade of votes for pet projects.

“I’m not talking about anything that’s illegal. It’s part of the process that somebody gets a road, or if you do this, we think we can do this, you know, the promising of these things in exchange for a vote. That puts us in a worse fiscal position, has the potential to put us in a worse fiscal position than we’re in now. And if that happens I’ll do everything from a policy standpoint to try to stop it.”

Two sets of expanded gaming bills have already been pre-filed in the legislature. Supports say gambling could raise hundreds of millions of dollars in additional tax revenue for the state.

2:03 pm
Mon December 23, 2013

Stumbo: Kentucky Revenue Could Fall Nearly $1 Billion Short of What is Needed in 2015

Kentucky House Speaker Greg Stumbo
Credit Kentucky LRC

Kentucky’s budget priorities for 2015 could require nearly $1 billion in revenue that the  state doesn’t have.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo told a group of business leaders earlier this month that the cost of  funding priority issues like education, public employee raises and more could total an estimated $800 million.

“It would probably be more of a number like $700 to $800 million--and some would argue larger than that. It just depends upon how big a bite of the apple you want to take, but I don’t think we can do that.”

Stumbo says the recession is the driving force behind the shortfall, and Kentucky’s economic growth rate will return to pre-recession levels in about two to three years in the absence of tax reform.

Gov. Steve Beshear will submit his budget proposal to the General Assembly next month.

9:45 am
Wed December 18, 2013

Bill Would Force Kentucky's Leaders to Visit Certain Areas of the Commonwealth

Kenny Imes, R-Murray
Credit Legislative Research Commission

A lawmaker from western Kentucky thinks state leaders should visit the far ends of commonwealth, areas he believes, are sometimes overlooked. 

State Representative Kenny Imes has pre-filed legislation for the 2014 session that would require certain non-merit employees, including the governor, to visit two of the most western and most eastern counties before they take office or be appointed to a position.

“Our Commissioner of Agriculture, James Comer, made a pledge to visit all 120 counties in the Commonwealth after taking office.  My bill would only require people like the Governor and his staff, his cabinet secretaries, and others to visit two: Fulton and Pike,” said Rep. Imes in a news release.  “They represent the people of Fulton and Pike County as equally as they do those living in Fayette and Jefferson, so it’s only right we require they make the effort to visit these regions.”

The leaders would have to get a certificate from the county clerks of Fulton and Pike counties as proof they physically traveled there. 

The legislation also requires travel for cabinet secretaries, commissioners, employees of KET, the state highway engineer, and employees of the Council on Postsecondary Education.  Those individuals would be required to travel on their own time and could not be reimbursed for travel expenses.

1:45 pm
Tue December 17, 2013

Report: Outside Group to Make Major Ad Buy in Kentucky Boosting McConnell, Paul

U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY)

A conservative group is planning to blanket Kentucky in coming weeks with TV ads defending Republican Senator Mitch McConnell. The ad buy will also link McConnell with his fellow Kentucky Republican, Rand Paul.

The website Politico says it’s learned that the nonprofit group Kentucky Opportunity Coalition will spend nearly $400,000 over the next week on the ads. According to a script shared with Politico, the ad will tell viewers that Senators McConnell and Paul are “working together to stop Obamacare.”

The Kentucky Opportunity Coalition is a 501 (c) (4) group aligned with the SuperPAC Kentuckians for Strong Leadership. That group has already spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on commercials attacking Kentucky Senate Democratic candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes.

Democratic groups have also jumped into the fray, with Senate Majority PAC and the group Patriot Money labeling McConnell as an obstructionist who should be retired from office after nearly three decades in the U.S. Senate.

8:26 am
Tue December 17, 2013

Results Certified for Two Close Special Election in Kentucky

The Kentucky Secretary of State has certified the results of last week's special election.

Official certificates of election were awarded by the office to Democrat Reggie Thomas, who won a race for Lexington's 13th Senate District, and Republican Suzanne Miles, who narrowly bested Democrat Kim Humphrey for the state House's 7th district seat.

Thomas got over 4,000 votes in his bid to replace Sen. Kathy Stein, who was appointed to a judgeship earlier this year. Miles, who is replacing former Rep. John Arnold, received nearly 3,550 votes—just 112 votes more than her opponent

Both elections were marked by low voter turnout, with 22 percent of eligible voters casting a ballot in the 13th District Senate race, and just 11 percent in the 7th House District race.