Hart seeks to return to Frankfort and continue the ‘good works’ he has been a part
For the first time since Eugene Hancock traveled to Frankfort in 1962 as member of the Ky. House of Representatives, Pendleton County has a native son, Mark Hart, making that same trek, and he hopes to continue with reelection to the 78th District seat.
It’s a new and contentious path for Hart as incumbent as he has seen protests against him and fellow Republicans.
“That’s what America is all about, being able to get out and speak out and protest,” Hart says. “That’s something new in my political career, protesting at a party event.”
“I take it all in stride. If you are going to get in the political arena, you are not going to make everyone happy, and you have to be willing to take the good with the bad.”
The pension has been a hotly debated issue. The Kentucky Supreme Court is currently deciding the constitutionality of SB 151, also known as the sewage bill. In today’s society, once issues are decided, many refuse to accept the decision.
For Hart, he is willing to accept the decision if the Ky. Supreme Court decides the actions of the Republicans were unconstitutional.
But he cautions, “If that happens, we’re gonna have a lot of problems in our state.”
The lower court judge ruled that the process of passing the bill was unconstitutional but the bill itself is not. Hart contends that the process used is the same process that has been used by both parties since 1955.
Thousands of laws could be invalidated if the process is ruled unconstitutional.
“I see the argument the other side is trying to make, but why is it now unconstitutional with Republicans having the majority when Democrats used the same process?” he asks. He also points out that past budgets were passed under this same method.
He further notes that Governor Steve Breshear, whose son is presenting the the case concerning the constitutionality of the sewage bill, passed a law that strengthened drug laws under the same process. If Andrew Brashear succeeds, those drug laws could be ruled unconstitutional.
If that occurs, what happens to those who were convicted under Breshear’s drug law?
In addition, there are questions on whether the judicial branch can weigh in on the process of the legislature. If they can, it may blur the lines of separation of powers, a point that both Hart and Coulson concede is a real question. With the bill fully funding the pension for the first time in decades, Hart expresses concern about what happens to the pension funds if the bill is ruled unconstitutional.
If the Supreme Court rules in the Republicans’ favor, he does not expect that to be the end of the road for legal challenges to the bill.
“The lower court ruled that the process was unconstitutional but it never ruled on the bill’s contents being unconstitutional. I expect there to be a challenge and an injunction to prevent it from going into effect until that is ruled,” he said.
While the bill was being passed through dubious means, Hart indicated he was one of the legislators who questioned the process.
“They (the House leadership) explained to us in a caucus meeting how the process was going to work. All of us new guys were questioning whether we can do this. They gave us tons of examples on how it had been used since 1955. So, yes, because we have done this and this,” he explains. “We wanted to understand as much as anyone. The last several budgets had been passed this way. Both parties have used it to their advantages.”
He adds that they had to pass it that way to be able to override a governor’s veto. Governor Matt Bevin did not veto the pension bill, but he did veto the budget passed days later. The legislators did have enough votes to override the veto and put the budget into law.
“As a state and legislature, we need to concentrate on all the bureaucratic red tape that our teachers face. Our teachers cannot teach anymore. We need to allow our teachers to teach,”he implores. His concern is where the focus needs to be placed on education in the future.
“We have created such a boondoggle for our teachers that operate in the public education system that they can’t teach. We’re draining the lifeblood out of all our teachers because they are not able to do what they want to do, which is teach, and that is what we need for them to do,” he adds.
As a member of the Education Committee, Hart seeks to understand matters regarding education. His interest in education is piqued considerably because both Pendleton and Harrison Counties, two of the counties he represents, claim their school systems as their largest employers.
He explains why some issues were not the focus in the last General Assembly. “Our number one priority in our budget last session was to come up with the $3.3 billion to fully fund the pensions and create a mechanism that will lower the unfunded liability portion.”
“I think our state needs to move to a consumer-based tax code,” says Hart about where state budget revenue should be coming from. “It’s based on sales tax, on stuff you buy or acquire.”
He mentions that Texas and Tennessee revenues are based on this system, and it creates a higher source of income for the state. “I want to create a tax code that allows you, the worker, to keep as much of the money that you earn that you can,” he added.
He points out that the income tax for most people was lowered in the tax revenue bill passed in the last session.
“(It) brought everyone down to a flat rate of five percent,” he says. “If you are at or below the poverty level, you are not going to pay five percent, anyway. The average Kentuckian will see a refund in their taxes.”
With that action, they put taxes on some services to offset the loss of taxes from the income rate reduction.
“As we move forward, you are going to see more taxes on more services, including legal services. If Republicans stay in the majority, our ultimate goal is to lower income taxes to zero.”
He counters the point the opposition makes concerning the example of Kansas’s failure s with a similar tax system. He points out that Kentucky Republicans learned from Kansas’s mistake. They did not include or exclude some of the things that Kansas did.
“I don’t buy the argument that we are putting a greater burden on the poor,” says Hart. He explains that he does not see Kentucky as a state taxing the basic necessities of life.
While saying he loves his pets, he uses the tax on veterinary services as an example. “At the end of the day, if we don’t levy taxes on some of these additional services, and in some cases luxury services, the only other option we have is to continue to attack people’s income and their property.”
He gives the example that as individuals go through tough times in their lives, income taxes always takes part of their income. They do not take into account what is going on in a person’s life.
But with a consumptionbased tax, they would have to limit their purchases in order to cut the amount of taxes they pay. This means some may have to cancel such luxuries as country club memberships.
He points out that visitors from other states could pay a larger percentage of taxes to help support the state. The income tax does not allow the state to benefit from the purchases made by visitors to Kentucky. Hart would like to see a zero income tax rate “sooner rather than later,” but he concedes, “A lot of it will be determined by how the elections turnout in November.”
Voting Track Record
As a freshman representative, Hart has sponsored bills that have become law, and those laws have created controversy.He defends his stances on both right-to-work and charter schools.
“For me, [right-to-work] was not an anti-union bill,” he says. He points out that he was a member of the firefighter’s union, and 75 percent of such workplaces are no longer closed shop.
“I wasn’t required to be a member of the union to be an employee of the Lexington Fire Department. I’m a big proponent of freedom and liberty and having a right to choose. I don’t think anybody should be forced to be a part of a labor union or any organization.
“I think unions have their place, and they have their purpose. I benefitted from being in my union through our contract negotiations and stuff.”
He continues, “At the end of the day, I supported it because you should not be required to join anything that you don’t want to.”
As for the charter school legislation, he says, “I don’t think there will ever be a charter school in Pendleton or Harrison County.” Hart indicates that they were receiving a lot of concerns about what the schools in Jefferson County are offering their children.
“In my opinion, that money (SEEK funding) is there for that child’s education, not to fund and help the public school thrive. I do believe people should have some options.
We are lucky; we’ve got some great schools in my district. Harrison, Pendleton, Scott County schools are great, but you cannot say that in Jefferson County. My vote effected everyone in the state, not just my district.”
“No,” Hart replies to the question of would he vote for a budget that takes money from public schools to fund charter schools. He does leave the door open, though, by stating that if public schools are ever fully funded, he would consider creating a mechanism to fund charter schools. “We don’t have the money right now to fund charter schools.”
Hart indicates that he questions the benefits of putting those struggling with drug issues in jail. He makes a distinction between those who are trafficking with those who are users.
“There are so many socio-economic factors that create the (drug) problem for users, and we cannot solve all of those problems with legislation. Our jails are full from those convictions. Maybe they are better served in rehab than in jail,” suggests Hart, who does support medical marijuana.
“I think putting people back to work in our state is going to help tremendously.” Hart links work with increasing people’s self-worth.
Moving toward the 2019 General Assembly, Hart would like to keep move to relieve unnecessary regulations on schools and to modernize the tax system. He also anticipates having have to review the pension legislation, depending on what the Supreme Court decides.
“The House Republicans are of the mind that we should pass the bill that raises the income that can be taxed on retirees from $31,000 to $41,000 this session,” he says. He points out that the House passed a bill in April that did just that, but the Senate never took it up for consideration.
Finally, Hart makes the point that he would be returning as a Republican majority, and he can get more done. He cites that voter registration in the state is Republican-heavy with Scott County flipping to a Republican majority.
The full video, including material not covered in this article, can be viewed at www.falmouthoutlook.com. There are videos with candidates in other local races.