Local representatives Derrick Graham and Carl Rollins believe there’s support for a constitutional amendment on expanded gaming, but Sen. Julian Carroll says any proposal must be vetted before there’s a vote.
That’s in response to Gov. Steve Beshear’s inaugural address, in which he called on leaders to “find the political courage and the will to lay the foundation” for the future before saying he’ll again push for a constitutional amendment on expanded gambling.
Beshear shared broad plans for his second term during his 20-minute inaugural address Tuesday, mentioning job creation, education, gambling and restructuring the state’s tax code when the recession ends.
He offered no details during the ceremonial swearing-in, but Beshear said early education and child welfare were key in his vision for the state.
“I want to create a Kentucky where every child, regardless of whether he or she is born in the inner city, in a mountain hollow, on the farm or in the suburbs, every child is guaranteed the potential for a life of promise and meaning,” Beshear said from the Capitol steps.
“A Kentucky where every child is given the opportunity and the ability to succeed. We are not there yet.”
He also told the crowd that the foundation he hopes to lay in the next four years includes allowing Kentuckians to decide on expanded gambling and restructuring the state’s tax system “to make it more fair and efficient to meet the needs of our people.”
Before the address, Beshear told reporters he will propose a constitutional amendment to allow expanded gaming in the upcoming legislative session. That would put the issue to voters during the presidential election in November if passed.
“I think that’s the best way to resolve that issue,” Graham, D-Frankfort, said by phone today. “Let people vote on it and see what the overwhelming number of people think about it.”
Graham said there’s support for a constitutional amendment in the House, and he’d like to see a local option in any proposal so cities and counties, particularly those with or near racetracks, can decide whether to allow expanded gaming.
Rollins, D-Midway, said he’s heard positive comments from fellow lawmakers regarding a constitutional amendment for expanded gaming.
An amendment failed to clear the House in 2008, and a bill that would allow slots at racetracks didn’t pass a Senate committee in 2009.
In the upcoming session, which starts Jan. 3, House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said the Senate must act first on expanded gambling.
“It’d be nice,” Rollins said in the Capitol after Beshear’s address. “… Once before we took a hard vote on it. It was hard for a lot of members, not for me, and then the Senate killed it in committee. Never even heard it.”
Carroll, D-Frankfort, said he’d have to see the proposed amendment before deciding whether to support it.
“I think there are a lot of questions that need to be thought through before we start putting that on the ballot because it’s not a question of the right of the people to vote on the issue, but it is a question of once it’s voted on,” Carroll said by phone Tuesday.
“I am deeply concerned about some of the influences that are going to come in here with a constitutional amendment issued, so I want to see the legislation itself before I make a commitment.”
On restructuring the state’s tax code, Rollins said conversations on the subject among legislators have been “a little more open” recently.
“The devil’s in the details on tax reform,” he said, noting he’d like the General Assembly to start evaluating the issue sooner rather than later.
Beshear said the state must climb out of the recession before looking at the tax system.
Carroll said he thinks the state’s tax system is inequitable and needs to be reexamined. He pointed to distilleries as an example, saying they pay 6 percent more than they should after the legislature moved retail sales taxes to wholesale taxes in the 1980s and later reinstituted the sales tax without dropping the wholesale accordingly.
He also thinks the issues surrounding the state’s tax code have little to do with the recession.
“The issues that we’re dealing with here are issues of equity within the tax code, and we can take care of people that are being mistreated,” Carroll said.
“… We badly need to do something about revising our tax code.”
Graham, who said he supports modernizing the state’s tax system, said starting discussions early could give Kentucky an edge once the national economy recovers. He said it typically takes the state a couple years to feel the effects of swings in the economy.
“That could be his (Beshear’s) legacy, really, is moving Kentucky in the 21st century rather than having us in the 20th century in terms of our tax structure,” Graham said.
“As long as we can come up with a plan that’s fair and balanced that’s not putting a burden on any economic group, then I am very, very much in favor of that.”