Gov. Matt Bevin sat down with KET’s Renee Shaw to discuss the resignation of former House Speaker Jeff Hoover, the prospects for pension and tax reform, his approach to a new state budget, and other issues expected to come before the 2018 Kentucky General Assembly. Their conversation was recorded on Jan. 9, 2018.
House Leadership Drama
In his resignation speech on Monday, former House Speaker Hoover accused Gov. Bevin of defaming him in comments regarding the secret sexual harassment settlement involving the Jamestown Republican and three other GOP lawmakers.
Bevin says he doesn’t understand why he’s a target of Hoover’s anger, saying that their relationship had always been “great.” Bevin says every bill he supported, Hoover voted for, and he praises Hoover’s performance during the 2017 legislative session, when Hoover became the first Republican House Speaker in nearly a century.
The governor says Hoover’s predicament is of his own making and he doesn’t know why the former speaker feels people are out to get him.
“I don’t know where his head is as it relates to this, but playing the victim in this is not working,” says the governor.
Bevin says all officeholders must hold themselves to higher standards of morality, integrity, and judgment because that’s what voters expect of them. He says he has complete confidence in the current GOP leadership at the capitol, and says House Speaker Pro Tem David Osborne (R-Prospect) is doing a “stellar job” presiding over the chamber under challenging circumstances.
The governor adds that he knows of no friction between him and House Republicans.
Bevin says he’s also perplexed by the response his pension reform proposal drew from current public employees and teachers as well as retirees. He argues it should be no surprise that paying off what he says is a $60 to $80 billion unfunded liability in the state retirement systems will cost significant moneys. Plus he contends he’s the only governor in recent history to fully fund the state’s portion of the pension obligations.
The governor also contends that the worker and retiree groups that oppose changing the retirement plans represent the very people who have the most to lose should pension reform efforts fail.
“They want pension reform,” he says. “They may not think they do, they may have been told that they don’t, but they want pension reform – otherwise the checks will stop coming.”
A New State Budget
The governor will present his budget address to a joint session of the General Assembly on Jan. 16. He says his spending plan will focus on things that only state government should be doing.
“If it’s not related to public protection, caring for the vulnerable, educating, providing the ability to move goods and services and people to market, then that’s not the primary role of government,” the governor says. “Everything else is extraneous.”
Instead of calling for equal spending cuts across all parts of Kentucky’s government, Bevin says he will direct his agency heads to cut entire programs or functions that the state cannot do well or could be privatized. With limited taxpayer dollars, government should spend money where it can get the best return for its citizens, Bevin says.
“I believe in being hands off as much as possible, hands on as much as necessary,” the governor says. “In this budget, I will be hands on. I will lay down some very clear guidance, but I will also leave a fair amount of latitude to people to be able to come up with how they would find solutions.”
He also says basic K-12 education funding called SEEK is not in jeopardy.
Bevin disagrees with those who believe pension reform and tax reform must happen simultaneously. He contends pension reform and a new state budget must happen first so that lawmakers know exactly how much money is needed to address those needs.
“Tax reform means different things to different people… To some it means cutting taxes, to others it means raising taxes,” Bevin says. “I’m of the mindset let’s cover the things we must pay for, and then let’s cover as many of the things we’d like to pay for as the people will stand for. That’s essentially the balancing act of taxes.”
The governor says tax reform could happen during this session, but he also acknowledges that lawmakers may not have the “bandwidth” to tackle it after doing pension reform and crafting a new budget. Bevin says if tax reform isn’t completed during the regular session, lawmakers will address it in a special session.
The Republican says tort reform will help improve the state’s economic climate and make the commonwealth more competitive. He says businesses of all types are forced to spend money defending frivolous lawsuits that could otherwise be spent on growing their operations or paying their employees more.
“We can’t be so user friendly for trial lawyers,” says the governor. “Kentucky should not be a richer fishing ground than other states.”
Bevin says he wants to better target education spending so that students who graduate from the state’s public schools, colleges, and universities are equipped to get good-paying jobs in the new economy. To combat the opioid crisis, the governor wants to invest more in drug addiction prevention and to treat pregnant women who have a substance abuse disorder. He also hopes that a new limit on how many opioid painkillers doctors can prescribe in most cases can begin to break the cycle of drug addiction in the commonwealth.
“Last year in Kentucky there were more than 350 million pills prescribed to 4.5 million people – 79 opioid pills for every man, woman, and child,” Bevin says. “It’s ludicrous to think that there’s not a correlation between a highly addictive narcotic being prevalent and people becoming addicted.”