Tax cuts, maybe medical cannabis: what’s in store for the 2023 Ky. General Assembly
Republican House Speaker David Osborne said this year’s session would focus less on policymaking and more on tweaks to existing legislation, including another cut to the state’s income tax.
Lawmakers already reduced the income tax from 5% to 4.5%, effective at the beginning of this year. Now leaders of the Republican-led Legislature say they want to reduce it again, to 4%.
Osborne acknowledged that the bill would mean less money flowing into state coffers, but said voters want lower taxes.
“It does take money out of state coffers, about $600 million this year, about a billion [dollars] too in 2024, and we happen to believe it’s good policy to allow taxpayers to keep more of their hard-earned money,” Osborne said.
Critics worry that reducing the income tax will blow a hole in the state’s ability to generate revenue and say that lawmakers should restore cuts made to public education and other services in the decade after the 2008 recession.
Republican leaders have said they hope to totally eliminate the tax in the future. Lawmakers voted to lower the income tax last year after the state brought in more tax revenue than expected in recent years, creating historic budget surpluses.
This year’s legislative session lasts for 30 working days. The final day for lawmakers to pass bills is March 30.
Advocates hope this will be the year lawmakers legalize medical cannabis, a proposal that passed the House in 2022, but died in the Senate.
Republican lawmakers have a new source of pressure on the issue, too: late last year, Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear issued an executive order allowing Kentuckians to possess cannabis legally purchased in other states, as long as they have a note from a doctor saying they have a qualifying medical condition.
Republicans have rallied against the governor’s move, but Osborne said the future of medical cannabis lies with the Senate.
“I think we’ve shown that we will pass it, the Senate has not yet shown that,” he said.
Meanwhile Democrats hope the Legislature will go further. Rep. Nima Kulkarni, of Louisville, said she will file a bill that would create a constitutional amendment legalizing medical cannabis. Rep. Rachel Roberts, of Newport, has filed a bill to legalize and regulate the drug.
Osborne said Republicans don’t have further plans to regulate abortion this session. Though any legislative action on abortion would likely depend on whether the Kentucky Supreme Court upholds the state’s near-total ban on the procedure.
Kentucky voters rejected a referendum to add anti-abortion language to the state constitution last year. The amendment would have made it harder for the reproductive rights advocates’ case, which is seeking to enshrine abortion rights under the state’s fundamental legal document.
But Republican lawmakers have signaled they would attempt to restore restrictions, depending on the court’s ruling.
Eastern Kentucky flood recovery
Osborne said there currently isn’t a plan to send more money to assist flooded communities in eastern Kentucky, but that the legislature would be open to it.
“As of right now, no additional funds have been requested from the administration. There might be a circumstance to approve more, but we haven’t heard any need from the administration so far,” he said.
Many eastern Kentuckians are still living out of travel trailers or in other unstable accommodations.
In August last year, Beshear signed a flood relief package during a special session, providing $212.7 million for eastern Kentucky communities.
At the time, both the governor and the Legislature said the measure amounted to a temporary solution, and that more aid would be needed by the time lawmakers return for regular session in January 2023.