Despite the inclement weather, the Kentucky Chamber’s 16th Annual Policy Conference, sponsored by Brown-Forman, was a great success with 15 of Kentucky’s leading public officials addressing a group of more than 130 of the state’s business leaders. Chamber members heard what is in store in 2011 in Washington, D.C. and Frankfort. Panel discussions on health care, education, taxes and energy issues allowed executive branch officials and legislators to react to specific questions from the business community.
Congressman Ben Chandler opened the conference with a discussion of the changing landscape in Washington and how that will impact big picture issues in the next session of Congress. He noted his opposition to health reform and the consumer financial reforms that passed the recent Congress and pledged to work with the business community to find common ground on issues where he may disagree. In the current lame-duck session of Congress, he noted his support for the Bush tax cut extension agreement between the President and Congressional Republicans.
Gov. Steve Beshear offered the keynote speech during lunch. He highlighted his support for the recent changes to the state’s economic incentive laws and how those are beginning to pay off in terms of jobs. His legislative priorites will be to balance the Medicaid budget and he wants to raise the compulsory school attendance age to 18, a proposal supported by the Chamber.
Senate President David L. Williams and House Speaker Greg Stumbo concluded the Policy Conference by discussing a number of issues important to the business community. Sen. Williams described an ambitious agenda for 2011 that includes creating a tax reform commission, addressing Medicaid fraud, allowing voluntary charter schools, budget and public pension reform, improved government transparency and immigration reform. Williams recently announced his “Agenda for Prosperity” and challenged the Chamber and business leaders to be bold and speak out on issues that will make Kentucky a better place to do business. Stumbo agreed that tax reform should be considered and noted his support for pension reform and finding ways to eliminate income taxes from Kentucky’s tax code. Stumbo also noted his support for an aggressive spending plan to build new schools and invest in water and sewer projects around the state. This plan would require additional state debt, which the Speaker argues is appropriate.