State faces $900 million deficit

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By R.J. Palmer

Members of the Kentucky General Assembly convened the 2010 legislative session last week with a variety of issues that need attention, including the always-challenging task of compiling a two-year budget plan for the Commonwealth.

Even-year sessions, like this one, meet for 60 days. The two-year state budget is written during this “long session,” and this budget session will be difficult because of the magnitude of the decisions we must make. Even if we only flatline the spending already in place, Kentucky faces at least a $900 million deficit. That is 10 percent of the annual budget, and a number that large cannot be remedied with simple changes.

Since we passed the current budget two years ago, it has been cut six times, mostly through wholesale cuts across state government, together with certain tax increases. As Governor Beshear said in his State-of-the-Commonwealth address, out of adversity comes opportunity. This is our chance to re-evaluate our priorities for state government, assess which state programs work and generally slim down our agencies to a manageable level. Simply requiring all areas of government to reduce spending by 10 percent will not necessarily make government more efficient in the long run.

One way to make government more efficient is make government more transparent and ethical. We will have several bills this session aimed at putting state spending and campaign finance reports online. Twenty years ago, Kentucky was at the forefront of ethics reform and we need to continue this distinction.

We also want to be a leader in education.  This week, University of Kentucky President, Dr. Lee Todd, spoke with the Obama administration about federal initiatives to increase the number of math and science teachers in our K-12 schools -- a push we have successfully made in Frankfort for several sessions. We will be continuing those efforts this year, along with keeping a close eye on the implementation of school testing reform measures we passed last year.

Of course, during the next three months, there will be many other issues to arise, ranging from criminal code reform to energy independence to domestic violence. Each week, I will report on our work in Frankfort, but to truly be your servant at the Capitol, citizens must be actively engaged. In addition to following news reports and reading my columns, you can keep up with legislative action through the Kentucky Legislature Home Page and the General Assembly’s toll-free phone lines, or our free e-mail news service.

The Kentucky Legislature Home Page, www.lrc.ky.gov, provides information on each of Kentucky’s senators and representatives, including our phone numbers, addresses, and committee assignments. The home page also provides summaries and texts of bills under consideration, as well as information on the daily progress each bill has made through the legislative process.

By going to our eNews page, www.lrc.ky.gov/pubinfo/listserv.htm, you can subscribe to frequent e-mail updates on what is happening at the Capitol. In addition, the General Assembly has its own blog, Capitol Notes, www.lrc.ky.gov/pubinfo/capitol_notes.htm, that will allow you to receive legislative updates at your leisure.

You can also stay in touch with General Assembly action in the following ways:

A taped message containing information on legislative committee meetings is updated daily at 1-800-633-9650.

To leave a message for any legislator, call the General Assembly’s toll-free Message Line at 1-800-372-7181. People with hearing difficulties may leave messages for lawmakers by calling the TTY Message Line at (808) 896-0305.

You can also write any legislator by sending a letter with the lawmaker’s name to:  Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, Kentucky 40601.

You can also e-mail me directly at rj.palmer@lrc.ky.gov.

Senator R.J. Palmer represents Clark, Bourbon, Harrison, Nicholas, Montgomery and Bath counties.