Despite about $1.8 million spent on Kentucky lobbying in January, lobbyist organizations haven’t run out of steam on pending legislation for the remaining two days of the 2015 legislative session.
According to the Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission, 554 lobbyists and 685 of their employers are registered as of March compared to 677 in January.
One of those organizations, Americans for Prosperity Kentucky, hopes to stop the passage of Sen. Ernie Harris’s, R-Prospect, Senate Bill 29 that would freeze the gas tax.
According to representatives of the organization, they have mobilized activists across the state to stop what they call raising the gas tax on Kentucky families.
Harris’s bill would set the gas tax floor at the current rate of 27.6 cents per gallon based off of the last assessed price when gas averaged $2.35 per gallon.
But according to Julia Crigler, state director of Americans for Prosperity Kentucky, it isn’t a freeze at all.
“It’s being called a freeze, but it will increase the amount people pay at the pump,” Crigler said. “It’s disappointing that lawmakers are eager to exploit Kentucky families receiving relief from falling gas prices. We don’t need to raise gas taxes, we need legislators to responsibly budget.”
Oppose Uber, Lyft
The organization is also against Rep. Jeff Greer’s, D-Brandenburg, House Bill 207 that would affect the expansion in Kentucky of companies such as Uber Kentucky and Lyft that provide commercial taxi services within their networks through Smartphone apps.
Both bills have not made it out of Senate committees.
Rep. Rick Rand’s, D-Bedford, House Bill 340 would expand film tax incentives in the state. The bill has been approved by both chambers, but hasn’t been signed into law yet by Gov. Steve Beshear. The organization opposes it and still considers it a priority as the bill according to them creates a preferred industry, harms other businesses and siphons money from other places.
One of the top lobbying spenders in January is Altria Client Services whose parent group owns Phillip Morris USA, U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Company, John Middelton’s Black & Mild cigar company and Nu Mark that sells e-vapor products.
Altria Client Services spent $27, 544 in January.
David Sutton, spokesperson for Altria Client Services, said the company had at least two bills of concern in the session that haven’t moved.
A bill that would have put a tax increase on smokeless tobacco products hasn’t moved. The bill would affect companies like Skoal and Copenhagen with a 19.5-cents tax to a 51 cents tax increase on 1.5 oz containers of their products and a 40 percent tax increase on e-vapor or electronic cigarette products.
Sutton said the group also lobbied against Rep. Susan Westrom’s public smoking ban bill that hasn’t been heard since the bill was put in Sen. Albert Robinson’s, R-London, Senate Standing Committee of Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Protection.
“We were not lobbying against the public place smoking ban provisions,” Sutton said. “But against the language that would prevent vapor products (like e-cigarettes) being used in public places.”
Top spending employers in January also included:
• Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, $32,235;
• Kentucky Hospital Association, $25,975;
• Brown-Forman Corp. $24,000; and
• Ascential Care Partners, LLC, $20,000
The 2014 session broke previous lobbying spending year records with $18.4 million spent over the entire year, a 34 percent increase in the last 10 years. In 2004, lobbying costs, according to the Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission, was $12.1 million.
By Brad Bowman
The State Journal