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McConnell: Ky. Needs GOP Control Of State House To Grow Economy

J. Tyler Franklin

U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell says the state legislature needs to approve a handful of conservative priorities to make Kentucky’s economy competitive with surrounding states.

The list includes repealing the prevailing wage, passing so-called “right-to-work” legislation, allowing charter schools to open in Kentucky and requiring medical malpractice claims to be reviewed by a panel before they can be sent on to court.

The priorities have long been in the sights of Republicans in the state but haven’t passed the legislature, where the Democratic-led House of Representatives has declined to take up the measures.

When asked how his congressional colleagues view Kentucky, McConnell said, “it’s a great place for the Kentucky Derby, but you’re not terribly competitive from a business view.” The Senate Majority Leader made the remarks at a Kentucky Chamber of Commerce forum in Louisville on Monday.

McConnell said none of the policies would pass as long as Democrats control the state House.

“We have a new governor who in my view is doing all the things that I think need doing, but he can’t do everything by executive order,” McConnell said. “And these are things that need to be changed.”

Democrats have a 53-47 advantage in the House, though this November, all 100 seats are up for election (91 of the races are contested).

If Republicans take control of the House, the party would run the entire legislative path bills take on their way to becoming law. McConnell’s four priorities have already passed out of the Republican-dominated state Senate in previous legislative sessions, and Gov. Matt Bevin would have a sympathetic pen to sign conservative legislation.

Bevin proposed a state budget earlier this year that would have suspended the requirement for laborers on state public works projects to be paid the prevailing wage, which is generally a higher rate than wages on other projects, though the language didn’t make it into the final budget.

Bevin also made “right-to-work” and charter schools major planks of his platform during last year’s race for governor. McConnell criticized the prevailing wage, claiming it makes state-sponsored construction more expensive.

“The prevailing wage laws we have here, which basically are a union benefit, drive up the cost of school construction and even impact projects like the new Omni Hotel going up downtown in Louisville, by driving up the cost beyond what would be the cost in a truly competitive situation,” McConnell said.

Prevailing wage rates are set by the state labor cabinet and are based on wages paid by unionized companies in the region. The $300 million Omni Hotel and Residences is a public-private partnership among Louisville, the state and Omni, and workers on the entire project will earn the prevailing wage.

U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, a Democrat from Louisville, said McConnell’s criticisms about prevailing wage on the Omni project were unfounded.

“It’s still being built, it’s still going to be built, and the Omni organization still thinks that it’s worth doing in spite of prevailing wage,” Yarmuth said at the forum.

So-called “right-to-work” legislation would prohibit unionized companies from requiring workers to pay dues as a condition of employment. Indiana, Tennessee and West Virginia are the neighboring states that have approved such policies.

Bill Londrigan, president of the Kentucky AFL-CIO, said McConnell is trying to get Kentucky to lower its standards since other states have lowered theirs.

“Instead of trying to lower standards and lower wages for workers, we should be standing with workers and increasing wages and benefits,” Londrigan said.

Medical review panels, which the House has also refused to take up, would analyze medical malpractice lawsuits before they can be tried in court. Critics say the policy would skew rulings toward hospitals and doctors, and away from those bringing the lawsuits.

And a version of charter school legislation that passed the state Senate in 2014 would have allowed teachers and parents to petition the principal of a low-achieving school for a vote to have a privately run charter organization operate the school.

Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives. He's covered politics and state government for NPR member stations KWBU in Waco and KUT in Austin. He has a bachelor's degree from the University of Chicago and a master's degree in journalism from the University of Texas. He grew up in Lexington.

Email Ryland at
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