Ky. Chamber calls for right to work, expanded gambling and reforms to taxes and teaching

07/17/2012 02:20 PM

Kentucky’s economic climate is middling, held down by the poor health and income of its people and the debt and some decisions of its government, the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce’s latest report said on Tuesday.

And the solution? The business group says creating more jobs is the closest thing to a silver bullet. But that’s easier said than done.

To that end, the chamber’s 36-page “Ready for Jobs” report is sprinkled with policy goals and recommendations, many of which the chamber has advocated for years. That includes:

  • Changing some elements of business taxes.
  • Increasing levels of health care contributions for current state workers and revamping retirement benefits for future ones to lessen those growing expenses and debt.
  • Approving caps on medical malpractice lawsuits.
  • Approving a “right to work” law, in which workers must choose whether to join a labor union and pay dues instead of it being automatic.

Indiana recently became the 23rd state to adopt a right to work law, and the chamber’s report quoted a 1998 report from the University of Louisiana that stated such laws help attract companies. Kentucky lawmakers so far have resisted such a law and unions have argued that a right to work law would lead to wage cuts and an erosion of workers’ rights.

Kentucky Chamber of Commerce Dave Adkisson presented the report Tuesday at the chamber’s annual meeting in Louisville.

However, it’s not all bad news. The report also highlights some of Kentucky’s chief advantages.

“The cost of doing business in Kentucky is low. The cost of living is low … We have cheap electricity,” Adkisson said during his presentation.

Adkisson said “the most important thing” Kentucky can do to improve the climate is to expand tax breaks for so-called angel investors. Democratic Rep. Arnold Simpson of Covington pushed for such a bill in the 2012 General Assembly, but it fell short.

What ails Kentucky

One of the key features of the report is its conclusion that concisely wrapped up Kentucky’s social and economic positives, as well as the woes.

“Our income is low, our health is poor and our government spending and debt are high,” the report says of the negatives.

With health, Adkisson said the “single best thing that could happen in Kentucky” is to approve a statewide smoking ban, which the chamber backed during the last legislative session.

The report goes on to say that more widespread employment is the answer.

“Along with a paycheck that will increase income and improve living conditions, a good job includes insurance coverage that can improve health. a good job also reduces reliance on state programs such as Medicaid, which is growing almost three times faster than the overall state budget,” it concludes.

And the report says “quality education is the key to a good job and a stronger future for individual Kentuckians and the state as a whole.”

The “Ready for Jobs?” report notes that K-12 education funding has increased 33 percent over the last 14 years and public colleges and universities have increased by 6.7 percent — far less than the rate of increase of the state’s general fund overall (nearly 50 percent) and the corrections department (65.5 percent), Medicaid he alth coverage for the poor and disabled (123 percent) and public employee health insurance (202 percent).

The chamber’s document doesn’t explicitly call for more money for education. Instead, its specific recommendations for education included reforms to teacher and administrator evaluations and more effective ways to remove poor-performing teachers from the classrooms. It also renews the group’s call for incentive pay and pay for performance for teachers to attract top talent to the profession.

Helping ‘signature’ industries

While the chamber represents more than 2,700 companies from a host of industries, it singled a few key ones out: coal mining, bourbon distilleries and horse racing.

Specifically, the report recommends Kentucky’s leaders continue to oppose the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s policies that have blocked new mine permits.

And it called for lowering taxes on distilled spirits because only Alaska has a higher rate, the report said.

As for the equine industry, the chamber’s report argues that Kentucky should approve “alternative gaming options to provide assistance to the state’s equine industry and to recover millions in tax revenue being lost to neighboring states with casino gambling.”

However, the report doesn’t clarify whether the type of expanded gambling proposal it prefers should include a mix of free-standing casinos or expanded gambling at the tracks. That was a key point of contention during the 2012 General Assembly in which a casino proposal died in the Senate.

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