Saturday, October 29, 2016

Candidates for state representative disagree on Versailles bypass, state pensions, backgrounds

By Claire Johnson and Elizabeth Allen
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

The candidates for state representative from Woodford County in the Nov. 8 election disagree on building another Versailles bypass, and on the incumbent’s background and his work on the state pension problem.

Fister and Kay appeared at a Frankfort forum. (State Journal photo)
Democratic Rep. James Kay and Republican challenger Dan Fister are both from Versailles. The 56th District also includes much of Franklin County and part of Fayette County.

Fister recently endorsed a northwest Versailles bypass that could funnel traffic toward Midway, which opposes the project.

“I think a lot of the fear Midway has about traffic is – I don’t want to say is unfounded, but I think they’re a little too worried about it,” Fister said. “I don’t think it’s going to be what they think it is.”

Much of the concern is about truck traffic. “I don’t see a lot of that heavy traffic going that direction,” Fister said. “Now they will maybe say they’re headed towards [Interstate] 64 at that point, but I think they would tend to go to Lexington if they’re going south or further east and go towards Frankfort if they’re going back the other direction.”

Kay says the state does not have the money for the estimated $30 million project, especially when Woodford County has so many other infrastructure problems, including potholes and crumbling shoulders on Midway Road.

“I want to have as many citizens on board to support the project before we move ahead and spend money that we don’t have,” Kay said. “My challenge to my opponent is to tell me which taxes he would raise so that we can afford a bypass.” Taxes on motor fuels support the Road Fund.

Fister, who manages rental property on Main Street in Versailles, said his tenants are having trouble making payments due to lack of business.

“We are systematically destroyed downtown,” Fister said. “We have a lot of big trucks and a lot of heavy traffic that should not be there.” He fears heavy traffic is damaging old buildings, “built in a time when the heaviest things on the road were a horse-drawn wagon.”

While the bypass is a key issue for Midway voters, Kentucky’s pension problem is also a prominent issue for both Fister and his opponent. The 56th District includes a small part of Fayette County and a large part of Franklin County, and includes many state employees.

The 56th House District is in blue.
Kentucky has the worst funded pension system in the nation.

Kay pre-filed two bills in September to address the issue. One would fund legislators’ retirement through state employees’ retirement system; the other would create more transparency in the system’s finances.

Fister said the bill does not provide enough transparency, and said Kay opposed Republicans’ 2016 Senate Bill 2, but drew from it for the new legislation. “He cut and pasted little parts of that out and copied it over,” Fister said.

Kay passed on the bill when a House committee approved it. House Democratic leaders did not allow a floor vote on it. He told the Midway Messenger that he passed because it “gave the governor total control over the retirement systems.” His bill would have added a board member elected by retirees in addition to those named by the governor.

“I’m the only member of the House of Representatives, Democrat or Republican, who proposed a compromise to Senate Bill 2 which would protect state employees and provide transparency,” Kay asserted. “Dan Fister is misleading, if not outright lying.”

Kay said, “State employees and retirees know that the number one issue with our pensions is the underfunding. The secondary issue, which is also important, is transparency. I have been a leader in the House of Representatives on working on measures to make our pension investments more transparent so that we’re not getting ripped off by hedge funds and Wall Street, who have been making money off the backs of hard-working Americans and Kentuckians for decades.”

Fister has challenged Kay to sign the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solution’s “Legislative Pension Transparency Pledge,” to “support and vote for making the Commonwealth’s legislative pension system fully transparent, including requiring the disclosure of the name, status and projected actual retirement benefits . . . of all current and former members of the General Assembly.”

Kay had not signed the pledge as of Oct. 28, but said, “I’m happy to sign any pledge that provides for transparency.”

Fister also says the district needs a representative who is more involved in the community. “He’s my representative and I’ve never met him,” Fister said. “I’ve never seen him at anything that I’m at until I started running for office.”

Kay replied, “I’m one of the most community-minded and civic-engaged individuals that is an elected official across all three counties.”

Fister said Kay’s perspective is limited because he has not raised a family or started his own business. Kay said he does have a business, his law firm, and his fatherhood of a 10-month-old brings a needed perspective to the House.

“I’m raising my child. The future has never been more important to me than it is right now,” Kay said. “I know the issues of this community and the people of this community better than anyone in this race, and I will challenge my opponent to prove otherwise.”

Fister said in an interview in September that he was confident that he has the election “pretty well won.” He added, “That may sound arrogant, but everybody I’ve talked to is tired of the status quo. They want something different, and I think I’m that.”

Kay replied, “I’ll give Dan Fister the benefit of the doubt that he thinks he’s won the election, but no one is working harder than me to meet the voters of Woodford County, of Midway and my district . . . If I do lose, it won’t be because I got outworked.”

For short biographical profiles of the candidates (and those for Midway City Council), click here.

No comments: