FRANKFORT — Gov. Steve Beshear said Wednesday he hopes a “fairly simple” constitutional amendment on expanded gambling will be introduced in the state Senate during the first week of the General Assembly, which convenes Tuesday.
“We are looking at a fairly simple approach to an amendment,” Beshear said during an end-of-the-year joint interview with several reporters. He said he is still “putting the final touches” on the amendment but he said people “don’t want to look at a 14-page amendment to determine whether they’re going to vote on it or not.” He wouldn’t say if the amendment would allow stand-alone casinos.
Details on how money from gambling might be spent would come later in enabling legislation if the amendment is approved by voters, he said. He declined to estimate how much revenue gambling might generate or who might sponsor the bill in the Senate.
Beshear, who resisted discussing tax reform during his re-election campaign, also said he will announce “some plans in the next week or two in the area of tax reform.” He was coy about what he would propose, declining to reveal any details. But he said he wants to see an increase in state revenue from any tax reform. Later, in response to a question about the state budget, Beshear said he did not foresee any money from tax reform in the next couple of years.
“I don’t think we can expect any additional revenue either from tax reform or gaming on which to base this upcoming budget,” Beshear said. “I think any new revenue will be down the road.”
That two-year budget, Beshear said, will “be one of the most difficult challenges, if not the most difficult” budget challenge since he’s been in office and during which time he has adjusted the budget 10 times.
The budget won’t include any anticipated revenues from gambling, but if an amendment passes licensing fees might provide a substantial amount of one-time money before the two-year biennium ends. That, Beshear said, could be appropriated later through an amendment to the budget.
That tight budget comes at a time when the University of Pikeville is seeking state funding. Beshear said that is a question which needs “to be very deliberately reviewed and thoroughly reviewed.”
He said he didn’t know if such a study could be completed in time for the legislature to act on Pikeville’s request in the 2012 session. Beshear has called for an outside consulting firm to advise the state on the wisdom of admitting Pikeville but doing so would put pressure on funding to the state’s existing public universities. Beshear was asked if those universities are facing funding cuts in the upcoming budget – with or without the admission of Pikeville.
“Everything right now along that line is still on the table because we’re still putting the budget together,” Beshear said. “There’s going to be reductions (across state government), there isn’t any question about that.” But he said it hasn’t been determined whether the universities will face further cuts.
Beshear said the budget will include the scheduled payments for the state employee pension funds, a schedule set by legislation passed in 2008 to put the retirement funds on firm financial footing. Some lawmakers say that hasn’t happened, but Beshear said if lawmakers continue to meet that schedule the system should be sound.
The governor said he’s working with Attorney General Jack Conway and House Speaker Greg Stumbo on “a package” of legislation to deal with the scourge of prescription pain-killing drugs in Kentucky. He said the bill doesn’t presently include legislation on restricting purchases of pseudoephedrine products used in the manufacture of methamphetamine. Sen. Tom Jensen, R-London, has pre-filed a bill which would require such a prescription and Rep. Linda Belcher, D-Shepherdsville, plans a bill of her own in the House.
Beshear said he remains “open to discussions” about such a bill but has concerns about requiring “millions of Kentuckians to pay a co-pay for a cold medicine” but recognizes the need to attack the problem of the homemade meth labs which leave behind toxic wastes, are potentially explosive and have led to the deaths of some children.
Mississippi and Oregon have seen significant reductions in the number of meth labs since passing similar legislation although the rate of meth use hasn’t declined appreciably. But Jensen says the aim of his bill is to cut down on the number of labs which are dangerous and expensive for law enforcement and the state to clean up after discovery. Opponents say it unfairly punishes and inconveniences law-abiding cold and allergy sufferers.
Beshear said he wants to “have a bold agenda for the next four years,” including passage of a bill to increase gradually the high school drop-out age, improve childhood health and produce a “more skilled, more educated” workforce in Kentucky.
He doesn’t expect to be involved in re-districting but will await whatever plan is sent him by the legislature before signing off on it. He said he expects at some point the state will become involved in funding for a renovated Rupp Arena in Lexington – just as it did with the Yum Center Arena in Louisville. But, he said, just like the Yum Center, state participation will depend on what the project’s ability to secure other funding sources.
Finally, he said he hopes to make an announcement by the end of the week on whether to approve a proposed merger of University of Louisville Hospital, Jewish Hospital & St. Mary’s HealthCare and St. Joseph Health System in Lexington, which is owned by Denver-based Catholic Health Initiatives.