By John David Dyche
The Republican candidates for Kentucky's governorship mostly agree on several items from the party's recent agenda, like right to work, charter schools, and tax reform. But each of the four contenders has also offered some creative, interesting, and relatively original policy ideas for improving Kentucky.
For example, Agriculture Commissioner James Comer recently proposed offering "Kentucky students a 4-year bachelor's degree from one of our two flagship universities for a total tuition cost of $20,000" and "from a Kentucky regional university for a total tuition cost of $15,000 to the student."
Under Comer's plan, "students who accept a job in Kentucky and live in Kentucky will be reimbursed for tuition over those amounts through annual tax credits on their Kentucky tax returns after graduation." He adds that "students must graduate in four years to be eligible for these tax credits," which will apparently be big enough to gradually reimburse the student for all costs over the specified ceilings.
The plan also provides that students who obtain a two-year associate degree or certification from the Kentucky Community and Technical College system within certain timeframes can recoup the entire cost of their tuition through tax credits. Employers who hire KCTCS graduates will get a $2,000 tax credit for each.
Comer says his plan is "budget neutral," but his position paper presenting it does not contain a fiscal analysis. WDRB's Lawrence Smith reported that, "The reimbursement would come in the form of income tax credits, and be paid for by the administrative savings the campaign says would come from streamlining the education process."
"As we provide the incentives to move through the system sooner, the Commonwealth would realize savings, but the other thing we will realize is we'll have a taxpaying citizen earlier than we would have otherwise," said Comer's running mate, the idea-oriented state Senator Chris McDaniel, who authored the policy.
McDaniel also told the Frankfort State Journal, "Using an existing model of funding, coupled with the increase in taxpayer base and increase in employers in our commonwealth while decreasing the administrative strain due to a bloated bureaucracy and students who are remaining in college too long, we can ensure the taxpayers that their investment in our students is well founded."
This big, intriguing idea merits consideration, but we need to see the math.
Businessman and former Louisville councilman Hal Heiner wants "to implement E-Verify in Kentucky, a measure to ensure that Kentucky jobs go to legal Kentucky workers." He says an E-Verify program would allow "employers to identify the immigration status of potential hires by checking names against government databases."
Heiner claims E-Verify will not cost employers anything. He would "require the use of E-Verify to confirm legal worker status for all employers, government employees and government contractors and subcontractors."
E-verify is already used in connection with certain federal government contracts. The Supreme Court has upheld its use at the state level, and several states, including Kentucky's neighbors Indiana and Tennessee are using it to some extent, especially with regard to government contracting.
Heiner says, "Washington continues to struggle to address illegal immigration" and "E-Verify is a simple, commonsense measure we can put in place at the state level to protect employment opportunities for Kentucky citizens and legal immigrants. It comes at no cost to employers, makes it easier for them to comply with existing employment law and rewards our current citizens and those who have immigrated to the U.S. legally."
It is a good idea. One wonders why Kentucky is not already doing it.
Former Kentucky Supreme Court Justice Will T. Scott understates the problem in the state pension system when he says it "is in debt over $30 billion dollars." The system's unfunded liabilities actually exceed that number and are among the worst in the nation.
Scott scolds Frankfort politicians for "calling for either more debt or tax increases" and instead urges "allowing the voters of Kentucky to have a voice by voting on a constitutional amendment for casino gaming with an ironclad requirement that would put 95 percent of the revenue from gaming in a lock-box away from the hands of greedy politicians who only care about the next election" and "ensuring that all of our state pensions are made whole."
Casinos are an old idea. The current governor, Democrat Steve Beshear, promised he would bring them to reality in Kentucky. Now he never mentions this idea upon which he was elected. But using a set portion of state revenue from casinos to help the pension problem is a new idea.
Scott neither does the math, nor addresses the toll casinos could take on Kentucky's poor and vulnerable. Casino revenue would not solve the pension crisis, and while helping to fund generous benefits for state workers, casinos would also adversely affect many who already live on society's margins.
Still, Scott's idea is a debate worth having. Also on the pension issue, businessman Matt Bevin advocates "an immediate freeze on the expansion of participants in our current pension plans and implementing a 401(k) style defined contribution plan for new employees."
These are good ideas even if not necessarily new ones. There is no good reason why state employees should have guaranteed benefits or minimum rates of return from their pension plans when the taxpayers in the private sector have neither.
Perhaps the battle of ideas in the GOP primary will embarrass or shame the anointed Democratic candidate, Attorney General Jack Conway, into actually saying what he would do if elected governor. After all, it is decades of Democratic governance like he offers that has left Kentucky on the wrong end of so many state rankings.
(John David Dyche is a Louisville attorney and a political commentator for
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