Before this year’s General Assembly, Frankfort GOP insiders joked that Secretary of State Michael Adams might end up signing more bills into law than Gov. Andy Beshear.
That didn’t quite end up happening.
Still, Adams, who’s responsible for signing vetoed bills overridden by the legislature, was kept plenty busy. He signed 29 bills and one joint resolution into law as the pre-session rancor over Beshear’s excessive use of executive power during the COVID-19 crisis spilled into the session.
The results were some real liberty boosting and busting moments during this year’s General Assembly.
Liberty Boosters: Lawmakers who voted for – and then overrode Beshear’s veto of – House Bill 563, school choice legislation opening the door to more public and private educational opportunities for Kentucky students, especially those from low-income homes.
Legislative leaders and rank-and-file lawmakers in both the state House and Senate not only allowed school choice legislation to move forward but also made passionate statements supporting educational liberty despite withering pressure from the anti-choice teachers’ union and their legislative allies.
Those opponents leveled spurious charges in both chambers contending that giving parents without financial means the right to choose a better school for their children somehow translates into hatred of public education. Unsurprisingly, a veto was issued by those opponents’ ideological twin in the governor’s office.
It’s a real stretch for opponents to charge this effort with being anti-public education when a major part of the bill gives parents the option of enrolling children in a public school outside the district where they reside, with state SEEK dollars to follow students who transfer.
We’ve yet to hear from those same opponents how giving parents options between public schools destroys public education.
Liberty Busting, Big-Spending Style: If Monday (March 29) could be called Override-O-Rama, then Tuesday (March 30), the session's final day, was a splendid display of an all-out spendalooza as lawmakers spent $1.25 billion, much of which is made possible by federal coronavirus aid dollars.
Not all the spending was necessarily ill-advised. Fully $750 million was directed toward paying off Kentucky’s unemployment insurance debts, a huge problem for too long.
Still, the practice of passing such bills with limited debate and scrutiny in the final hours – like this year’s push of legislation containing a troublesome tax increment financing (TIF) project aimed at revitalizing Louisville’s West End – must end.
The legislation allows the West End Opportunity Partnership to issue debt and then stick taxpayers with the bill if the TIF doesn’t produce the revenue needed to cover the service on that debt, or if the agency decides it’s going to forgive loans, which also isn’t prohibited.
It also doesn’t require competitive bidding for contracts, meaning the process could easily be abused as friends get taken care of while taxpayers get bamboozled.
Senate leaders crowed about spending six months working on this project. Why, then, did it take so much arm-twisting of rank-and-file legislators to push it through during the 30-day session’s final minutes?
Liberty Booster: Rep. C. Ed Massey’s masterful shepherding of legislation created a new pension plan for new teachers, offering them a defined benefit while protecting taxpayers. The bill, which keeps Kentucky’s pension-deficit hole from getting deeper and is projected to save the state $3.5 billion over the next 30 years, got better each time he advocated for it, including his statement on the House floor blistering Beshear for vetoing it.
Massey noted the governor vetoed the bill “without any input into the process which we’ve been doing over a year,” including painstaking efforts to educate policymakers and garner the support of various stakeholder groups, including the Jefferson County teachers’ union.
Fellow lawmakers rewarded Massey’s work and impassioned presentation with both a hearty ovation and an overwhelming 63-30 vote overriding Beshear, a past and continuing “liberty buster.”
Jim Waters is president and CEO of the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, Kentucky’s free-market think tank.