Last Wednesday and Thursday, more than 35 business leaders from Greater Louisville convened in Washington for two days of advocacy in Congress and at the White House. It was a hectic two days for Washington: there a sit-in by House Democrats on Wednesday closely followed by Britain’s vote to leave the European Union on Thursday.
Despite all of the chaos around the city and the world, GLI members cut through the noise to touch on some of the big issues businesses in Greater Louisville and nationally. Here are some highlights of what the group heard from officials:
· Drug Addiction & Mental Health – GLI arrived in Washington to shine a light from employers on the detrimental effects of drug addiction and poor mental health on the workforce in Kentucky and Southern Indiana. Congressmen and Senators alike pledged their support to provide funding for the Comprehensive Addiction Recovery Act (CARA) to help curb and reverse drug abuse in our region.
· Trade Agreements – Though not along partisan lines, Congress has shown that it is divided on whether to ratify the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). GLI supports the agreement, albeit contingent on the inclusion of language to prevent currency manipulation by other nations. Luis Jimenez with the Office of the US Trade Representative made a strong case for the deal, stating that it ensures the United State’s remains in a position to lead the world in defining and enforcing global trade with US standards. While the Kentucky and Southern Indiana delegations were largely supportive of the deal, they all agreed the outlook of its ratification is bleak heading into a lame duck session where both presidential candidates have voiced opposition to the deal.
· Fair Labor Proposals – A top issue as of late has been the Department of Labor’s finalized rules under the Fair Labor Standards Act, especially the increase of the federal overtime exemption for salaried workers to $47,476 per year. This increase more than doubled the previous exemption and GLI has voiced concern and proposed changes throughout the process. While the rule appears slated to go into effect, legislative fixes that would modify or reverse the new rule have been embraced by nearly all within the Kentucky and Southern Indiana delegations.
· Improving Regional Infrastructure – The final request of the GLI delegation was to maintain and improve our regional transportation infrastructure, whether it is road, transit, waterway, or aviation. On the heels of passing the 5-year highway funding bill – known as the FAST Act – the Kentucky and Indiana delegations reaffirmed their support for investments in critical infrastructure that makes Greater Louisville a competitive logistics center and attractive place for business.
· Reforms to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and Health Care Administration – GLI returned to Washington this year asking for reforms to the ACA, including the repeal of the Cadillac and Health Insurance Taxes, reforms to Medicare and Medicaid costs, and a return to the 40-hour workweek. These provisions of the ACA have created the most costs and limitations for employers. GLI also advocated for a reform to the overly-complex Recovery Audit Contractor (RAC), which substantially increase costs for providers. While receiving a sympathetic ear from Congressmen, Senators, and the top health care executive at the US Chamber of Commerce, all agreed that no major changes will be made until the next president takes office.
· EPA Regulations – Mark Rupp of the EPA spoke with GLI for a second consecutive year about concerns with the Clean Power Plan and the EPA’s expansion of regulation under the Waters of the US rule. While GLI members voiced concern that these regulations will make it more difficult and more expensive to do business in Kentucky, lawsuits by the states have sent these issues to the courts. Mr. Rupp maintained that, while he does not know how the courts will rule, the EPA will comply with their rulings when continuing to enforce the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts.
In all of these meetings, there was a sense that Greater Louisville is progressing and becoming a stronger region and economic engine for Kentucky. A member of the Kentucky delegation noted that his district in rural Kentucky is counting on the success and investment from Greater Louisville to drive their own economic growth and development. White House Director of Intergovernmental Affairs, and former Louisville mayor, Jerry Abramson cited Louisville as a leader in the nation on issues of labor, education and, of course, distilled spirits.
As several attendees noted on Thursday, the DC Fly-In is critical to maintaining a strong relationship with federal officials all year round. While Congress may not pass all of the Federal Priorities in two days, all of them remember that GLI came – that the business community cared enough to show up. As GLI members departed Washington, they left with relationships a little stronger, an imprint a little bigger, and ready to continue partnerships with elected officials to bring further growth and prosperity to the region over the next year.