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Comer: Cut state workers to make up budget shortfall

by Joe Arnold

WHAS11.com

Posted on July 15, 2014 at 12:08 AM

Updated Tuesday, Jul 15 at 12:08 AM

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) -- As Kentucky awaits a plan from Governor Steve Beshear how he plans to make up for a $90 million budget shortfall for the fiscal year which ended June 30, WHAS11 is asking several of his potential successors if they have any ideas. 

Agriculture Commissioner James Comer (R) suggested cutting bureaucratic positions in state government.  Attorney General Jack Conway (D) said the state should identify which agencies are most able to absorb budget cuts, and Republican Hal Heiner said he would have avoided being in this position, in the first place.

"The one thing I can assure you is that we're going to end up balancing this budget," Beshear (D) told WHAS11 in June.

He has no choice.

By law, Kentucky governors have to balance the commonwealth's budget, unlike the federal government which runs a deficit.

So how would the three most likely contenders in next year's governor's race handle it?  WHAS11 spoke to Comer, Conway and Heiner before the shortfall figures were released.

"I think there are so many areas in state government that can continue to be cut," Comer told WHAS11.  "You know, personnel is always the biggest expense item in any division in state government."

"I think that we would cut jobs where those programs are no longer needed," Comer said, adding that cuts to be bureaucracy should also be met by hiring more social workers and classroom teachers.

"There are a lot of bureaucrat jobs in Frankfort that we don't need and we haven't needed for over a decade now," Comer said.  "We need less bureaucrats in this state.  And the bureaucrats make about three times what a foot soldier, a front line worker in state government makes."

Comer is expected to announce a 2015 gubernatorial campaign within months. 

On WHAS11's The Powers That Be, Democrat Jack Conway was asked what he would do as governor if the budget shortfall reached $50 million.

"What you should do as governor, is say - okay these are mission critical and can't be touched. and these other agencies, we have to go back to them again," Conway said.

Conway said his attorney general's office routinely returns money to the state from legal settlements it negotiates, keeping a small percentage to fund that work.
He's already had to cut his budget 41 percent and has received a letter from the state budget director asking for more.

"It basically said, 'Dear General Conway, do you have anywhere you can cut? Is there any cash you can save where you can make a donation to the poor state government fund' for lack of a better term.  And we're in the process of seeing whether there is anywhere else we can cut."

Conway said cutting state workers would be "a last resort."

"We've already asked state workers to take a furlough," Conway said.  "They've borne a lot of pain."

In a separate appearance on The Powers That Be (Saturdays 9:30am), Republican candidate Hal Heiner wouldn't say what he would cut, only that the state shouldn't be in this position to begin with.

"I just ask Kentuckians, 'Is this the way you do your household budget?' that you're already at the end of the year and you don't have any way to pay the bills?" Heiner said.

Heiner suggested that an outsider should instill proper business principles.  Pressed for any eXamples of areas he would cut, Heiner deflected again.

"Joe, just don't get yourself into this kind of position," he responded.  "I mean look at governors in states all around us.  They've taken huge deficits and within a couple of years by growing jobs in the state and growing revenues, they end up with surpluses."

"I think any administration that finds itself in this kind of position is in a failed position."

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