Coleman, Kelly give updates about General Assembly

February 08, 2004|ANN R. HARNEY

HARRODSBURG - About 70 people braved intermittent snow showers to hear their state legislators discuss the current session of the Kentucky General Assembly.

Republican Sen. Dan Kelly, of the 14th Senate district which represents Mercer, Marion, Nelson, Taylor, and Washington counties, spoke first. Kelly said there were two groups of citizens when it comes to following the activity of the legislature: one group takes little notice of the goings-on by the state legislative body while the second group was very attentive, being concerned that some of their benefits were being cut.

The senator said he found the first group's approach refreshing while he understood that people depending on state government might be worried about the three-month meeting of lawmakers. He said Gov. Ernie Fletcher has a challenge to balance the budget over the next biennium that currently shows an almost $1 billion shortfall. He said Medicaid is facing about the same shortfall. Kelly said the new governor has only six months to put the state's finances in order. State law requires a balanced budget in Kentucky.


"People don't necessarily understand what's going on," Kelly said, and blamed newspapers for misleading people about the state of the state. He said the governor's goal is to reduce income tax. He said state's income tax should be reduced, while implementing a usage tax. He said people with more money would pay more of this tax because of the value of the items those people would. He said most people see it as the fairest tax.

Those who do not like a usage tax say it hurts middle and lower income citizens because they spend a higher percentage of their income. When the idea of a usage tax was introduced, Kelly said newspapers claimed the governor would put sales tax back on food. Kelly disputed that claim.

For his part, Democrat Rep. Jack Coleman of the 55th House district thanked all of those present for supporting him over the 14 years he has served in the state House of Representatives. Coleman announced in the summer that he would not seek re-election for another term in the House. Several of those seeking to fill his seat in the House were present at the breakfast as well as Republican Alice Forgy Kerr, who is seeking to fill the Sixth District spot in the U.S. House of Representatives.

"It has been a great experience," Coleman said. "I will never be able to repay you for what you've done."

He said there is always disagreement between the House and Senate over bills passed by one body and changed by the other. "If we were to send the 10 Commandments to the Senate, they would try to amend them," he said and then added that senators probably feel the same way about the House.

He said some education bills have been added to the hopper. Coleman said, "The bad part is I didn't know I'd have to deal with (Burgin Superintendent ) Dick (Webb) and (Harrodsburg Superintendent) H.M.(Snodgrass) every day."

He said the legislature is not apt to pass tax reform in the middle of the three-month session, although, he said, "We probably should have tax reform." He said he also will continue to work on one of the state's greatest problems: drug abuse.

"Drugs are killing our state, our country and Mercer County," he said. He said when one of the first drug task forces was formed, the most abused drug was Tylenol 3 with codeine; now it's Oxycontin. He said he hoped to continue working against drug abuse, even if he is not in elective office.

Mercer County Judge-Executive John Trisler rose to say he hopes the legislature will address the problems with drugs, jail inmate medical charges and he said he hopes lawmakers will support sending inmates to county jails.

Nadine Cole, who works for the state retirement system, asked if the legislators were going to restore the cuts in the state's retirement funds. Both Coleman and Kelly said they recognized the cuts would have to be put back; they were just not certain when and how that will be done.

"State employees don't work for the money; they work for the benefits," Cole said. "If you cut benefits, you're going to get lower quality workers."

The event was organized by the Mercer Chamber of Commerce and sponsored by the Mercer County Farm Bureau.

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