In Jan. 7 IssueBy Derek AaronTimes Journal Reporter
Lawmakers return to Frankfort this week to begin the 2010 General Assembly, a 60-day session that ends April 12th, and will tackle several issues, including how to handle the shaky state budget.
"I'm afraid there are going to have to be some painful decisions made," said Russell County's own Rep. Jeff Hoover, the House Republican leader. He and veteran Senator Vernie McGaha, are expected to play key roles in some of the decisions made this session.
The elected officials will look at ways to manage the $108 million deficit in the current budget as well as plan for the future and the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.
The state could be facing a budget shortfall of $800 million $1.5 billion over the next two years because of the economic recession, depending upon who you listen to, Hoover said.
"That is a rather significant revenue shortfall," he said.
Hoover said that in the past two years alone, the state's budget has been cut five times.
Gov. Steve Beshear discussed the budget shortfall early this week, announcing a combination of 3 percent spending cuts in many state agencies, fund transfers and one-time federal stimulus dollars, according to media reports.
Hoover said that in the past the legislature has been able to spare cuts in primary and secondary education, among others, but that he does not know how much longer the cuts can be spared in such dire times. But he added that lawmakers will do everything in their power to make sure those cuts do not happen.
"It is monumental," Hoover said of the budget issue. "This will be the most difficult session I've faced in my 14 years serving."
Beshear must have his new budget proposal to the state's House of Representatives by the middle of the month, Hoover said.
The first week of the session is looked at as an organizational week where officials attend ethics seminars and training, and some committees, among other housekeeping items.
The legislature will then get to work, voting on pre-filed bills that make it through committee, before closing out the session. The session is scheduled to end in mid-April.
It is expected that Gov. Beshear will also continue his push this session to legalize video slot machines at the state's horse racing tracks.
Estimates by some slot advocates show that legalizing slots followed by taxing the proceeds, could generate $200 million to $350 million a year in state revenue.
Among the more interesting of the pre-filed bills for the session is an act relating to the limited sale of alcoholic beverages by the drink at designated state parks.
This bill would permit the limited sale of distilled spirits, wine and malt beverages at state resort parks, and qualified state recreational parks and would allow a local option election for state resort parks and qualified state recreational parks in dry territories, establish the conditions under which the election will be held, set forth what a state resort park license or qualified state recreational park license entitles the holder to do, among other things.
Also, an act relating to compulsory school to provide that effective July 1, 2012, compulsory school attendance between the ages of six and 17; provide that effective July 1, 2013, compulsory school attendance shall be between the ages of six and 18, an act relating to personal communication devices that would prohibit text messaging while operating a motor vehicle; provide for specific exclusions, and set fine for violations at $20 to $100 for each offense after the probationary period, an act proposing to create a new section of the constitution that would amend a section of the Constitution of Kentucky relating to the Kentucky state lottery that would authorize by general law video lottery terminals in counties that have existing horse racing tracks upon voter approval in each of those counties; provide that the operation of video lottery terminals shall be part of the Kentucky State Lottery; create the equine excellence fund and the building Kentucky's future fund and provide that money generated by the revenue from and licensing of video lottery terminals go to those funds.