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Beshear insists expanded gambling still an option

by Joe Arnold


Posted on February 12, 2010 at 6:10 PM

Updated Friday, Feb 12 at 7:28 PM

Facing increasing criticism from lawmakers, Governor Steve Beshear (D-KY) is fighting back.

Both the Democratic leader of the House and Republican leader of the Senate pronounced Beshear's budget, balanced with the help of expanded gambling, dead on arrival.

With lawmakers starting from scratch on a budget that does not include revenue from slot machines at racetracks, Beshear sent a letter to the lawmakers on Thursday, asking them to reconsider the gambling measure.

"Quite frankly we can't find anyone that the governor has even talked to in the General Assembly to try to lobby to get his proposal through,"  said House Speaker Greg Stumbo (D-Prestonburg).  "I can't find a house member that he's even contacted."

"He's a one trick pony," added Senate President David Williams (R-Burkesville) "And his one trick is that he's interested in expansion of gambling, and i believe that he's disinterested in the budgetary process."

This is one example of bipartisanship Governor Beshear can do without.

In an interview, Beshear saying his mission to bring slot machines to kentucky racetracks is still an option.  He says he's done all he can do.

"Now the cold light of day has dawned on them and they're looking at what options they have and there aren't any good options," Beshear said.

Facing a $1.5 billion revenue shortfall in the next two year budget, Beshear and lawmakers do agree on one thing, they will not raise taxes.

"If they don't come up with some additional revenue, they're going to have to make some horrendous cuts in some of these programs that they don't want to," said Beshear.

Beshear says he's done his part.  By not filling positions left open by retirements, the executive branch has trimmed about 1600 positions, and has fewer workers now than in two decades.

"But they haven't talked about reducing the legislative branch,"  Beshear argued, "And I think the people out there want every branch of government smaller."

Meanwhile, Stumbo is floating a proposal to take $227 million from the state's Medicaid program, banking on more federal stimulus funds next year to make up the difference.

"We don't control what Congress is going to do," Beshear said, "so the idea of just making assumptions about more possible stimulus money I really don't think is that responsible."

Though the governor says there are no magic bullets, he keeps loading his rifle with the same shell,  Video Lottery Terminals - slot machines - at racetracks.

"We've got a way out of this.  That's the interesting part of this," he said. "Other states have closed schools, they've layed off teachers, firefighters and police officers.  We don't have to do that."

Beshear says lawmakers need just a little courage to pass the slots at racetracks legislation, which he estimates would raise almost $800 million in revenue in the first two years. 

"So it's going to be interesting to see if, as they look at these options, whether they become interested again in an option where money is already being spent by Kentuckians.  It's just that we're.... everybody is going across the river and spending it in Indiana or other states and they are getting our tax revenues."

When he ran for governor, Beshear campaigned for a constitutional amendment to expand gambling.  He says it's too late for that now.

But if three years from now, looking back at everything, there is zero, if there is not an amendment and there's not video lottery terminals through the General Assembly, what have you accomplished?

"Well, we haven't gotten there," Beshear said, "but I tell you I think we've got a lot better chance of passing VLT's at the racetracks quickly and we'll get more help for our people immediately than a constitutional amendment."

As to the constitutional amendment offered by Sen. Damon Thayer (R-Georgetown), Beshear said "it's kind of hypocritical because they're not for this.  And they are just trying to find a way to sidetrack it.  If VLT legislation is there to be adopted then they're going to be for something else. If there is something else to be adopted, they'll be for something else.
If we put an amendment on the ballot, they'd all be out campaigning against it."

Beshear says without added revenue, cutting $1.5 billion out of the budget will be painful.

"You're talking about having to cut education, you're talking about having to cut public safety, you're going to have to cut every vital area in this state and not just a little bit, a lot."

Stumbo, a fellow Democrat, suggests he is stepping into a void of leadership left by Beshear.

"This is a defining moment for the General Assembly," Stumbo said, "the General Assembly is going to stand up to this challenge. We're going to walk out of here with a budget that shows fiscal responsibility, that creates jobs."

Of his relationship with lawmakers, beshear laughed, saying "they don't have to love me, just fear me,"  which he quickly amended to say he just needs the lawmakers' "respect."