FRANKFORT, Ky. — Kentucky's Republican-dominated legislature convened Tuesday for a "short session" that will play out against the backdrop of the state's premiere political contest — the ever-so-crowded race for governor.

What You Need To Know

  • Kentucky's state legislature convened for a 30-day session on Tuesday

  • Republicans hold dominating supermajorities in both chambers: 80-20 in the House and 31-7 in the Senate

  • Lawmakers are expected to consider legislation calling for another phased reduction in the state's individual income tax rate

  • High-profile, perennial issues like sports betting and medical marijuana could also resurface

The 2023 session lasts just 30 days, as opposed to 60-day sessions held on even-numbered years. Republicans hold dominating supermajorities in both chambers: 80-20 in the House and 31-7 in the Senate.

Lawmakers introduced legislation calling for another phased reduction in the state's individual income tax rate. It is a follow up to a measure enacted in 2022 that triggered a reduction of the state individual income tax rate from 5% to 4.5% at the start of this year. The new legislation would lower the income tax rate to 4%, effective Jan. 1, 2024. The ultimate goal for GOP lawmakers is to phase out individual income taxes in Kentucky.

House Speaker David Osborne predicted the measure will clear the House this week. The Senate isn't expected to take up the bill until February, when lawmakers will reconvene after an extended break that begins after this week, he said. Republicans have supermajorities in both chambers.

“We happen to believe that it’s good policy to allow taxpayers to keep more of their hard-earned money,” Osborne told reporters.

In a press conference Tuesday, a coalition of 28 Kentucky organizations called on the legislature to reject additional planned income tax cuts. Kentucky’s income tax already dropped to 4.5% on Jan. 1, down from last year’s 5%. 

A 1% reduction in the state’s income tax, which provides more than 40% of the General Fund, would cost Kentucky $1.2 billion by 2025, according to the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy. Jason Bailey, executive director of the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, said the proposed rate cut would “tear a major hole in future funding for schools, hospitals and other essential needs.”

Last year's measure featured certain fiscal conditions that have to be met to trigger incremental drops in the state’s personal income tax rate. The landmark legislation also revamped the tax code by extending the state sales tax to more services. Opponents said Tuesday that it's an overall revenue loser for the state. The extended sales taxes under last year's bill would generate $1 in new revenue for every $12 in lost revenue from cutting the income tax rate from 5% to 4%, Bailey said.

High-profile, perennial issues could resurface during the session. Those issues include efforts to legalize, regulate and tax sports betting and resolve lingering questions over so-called gray machines — devices resembling slot machines that have spread in stores across the state. Lawmakers also could consider another push to fully legalize medical marijuana in Kentucky. Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear took executive action to allow Kentuckians with certain debilitating conditions to legally possess medical marijuana, provided the cannabis is purchased legally in other states.

Measures on both sports betting and legalizing medical marijuana have consistently stalled in Frankfort.

Kentuckians shouldn't expect “an incredibly aggressive agenda” this year, Osborne said. Lawmakers have pursued a bold agenda since 2017, when Republicans took complete control of Kentucky's legislature, he said.

"I do think it’s incumbent upon us to pump the brakes a little bit and tweak some things where they need to be tweaked, make some adjustments where they need to be adjusted,” the speaker said.

Republicans added to their supermajorities in last year's election, and the House and Senate welcomed a bevy of new lawmakers Tuesday. Lawmakers are scheduled to meet the rest of this week, then take a break before reconvening in February. The session will continue until late March.

By then, the hotly contested Republican primary for governor will be in full gear. Beshear, who has feuded with GOP lawmakers over a series of issues, is seeking a second term. The governor is scheduled to deliver his annual State of the Commonwealth speech to the legislature and a statewide television audience Wednesday evening.

Rep. Jason Nemes, a member of the House Republican leadership team, said GOP lawmakers aren't looking to put the governor on the “hot seat” with the legislation they send to him.

“I think his responses to things that we believe are good policy will show who he is," Nemes told reporters. "But trying to put Andy Beshear on the hot seat is not our intention at all.”

Meanwhile, it’s uncertain whether lawmakers will end up appropriating more emergency disaster relief for tornado-stricken parts of western Kentucky and parts of eastern Kentucky devastated by flooding, Osborne said. The legislature passed relief aid measures for both areas last year.

“There very well may be some circumstance that we would have to appropriate more," Osborne said.

Shoring up the state's troubled juvenile justice system is another looming issue, the speaker said. The governor announced a series of changes late last year that were aimed at bring security problems under control. Osborne on Tuesday described the executive action as a “temporary Band-aid,” but said lawmakers are looking to delve into the situation.