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The state budget, redistricting and expanded gaming will be just a few of the hot topics up for debate as the 2012 General Assembly begins Jan. 3.
As legislators head back to Frankfort for the 60-day session, which will end in April, state Rep. Royce Adams, D-Dry Ridge, and state Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, share their thoughts on several important issues.
How difficult will it be to pass a state budget this year without cuts?
Adams: “All of the reports that we’re getting, and we had a budget briefing last week for all of the House members, it’s going to really be tight. I think they have already asked some agencies to take another 2-percent cut. (The governor) is planning on sparing education, public protection and Medicaid, but most of the other agencies will be taking a 2-percent cut, and they’re hoping that will be all. Of course, the governor won’t deliver his budget to us until about Jan. 17. At that time, I’ll have a better handle on it, but it’s definitely going to be cut quite a bit. The consensus forecasting group’s prediction was that we would have a modest increase in revenue, but it’s not going to be enough to offset the increase in expenses.”
Thayer: “The situation with the state budget is very bad. The economy is not recovering at a fast enough pace. We’ve got too much spending. We can no longer rely on one-time money or debt restructuring. The federal stimulus dollars are gone. We are going to have to do what families and businesses and do and tighten our belt, make tough decisions, very likely make cuts within numerous areas of the budget and live within our means.”
Do you feel the state economy is improving or declining, and in what ways can legislators address this issue?
Adams: “They’re telling us that revenues are up slightly. But, as far being able to tell if the economy is turning around, as far as my business is concerned, it definitely is not. During the last session, we approved some new incentives that the Economic Development Cabinet can use to be able to attract new business, as well as, help those businesses that were wanting to expand. That would be tax incentives and things like that.”
Thayer: “I’m not seeing any economic signs pointing to a big turnaround anytime soon. I continue to believe that President Obama’s policies are dragging the economy down. The looming threat of Obama Care is causing businesses to be very conservative when it comes to hiring or expanding their business. You’ve got a president and a United States Senate that would like to raise taxes. So, there’s a lot of uncertainty at the federal level and I think we’re suffering from that at the state level. What we can do in the General Assembly is make sure we don’t raise taxes on individuals or businesses, have a very conservative fiscal approach to the budget and that we’re cautious when taking on new debt. We’re going to have to look at cutting areas of the state budget as well.”
Are you for or against expanding gaming and where do you see this issue heading during the 2012 session?
Adams: “There was an article that said that 87 percent of the people who had been surveyed had said they wanted to vote on it. What I see right now is that will be the route taken. I don’t think the General Assembly will vote to approve it on their own. We did that in the House about four years ago, but the Senate didn’t take it up. I don’t know that it’s changed any. I would say there is probably going to be a strong push for a constitutional amendment to be voted on next fall.”
Thayer: “My position has always been to settle the gambling issue by a vote of the people. The numbers in the poll are not surprising to me. I sponsored a constitutional amendment in 2010, but the governor wouldn’t get behind it. Now, he is going to be for it, again. He was for it before he was against it and now he’s for it. That’s his right. It’s his issue. I favor putting the issue on the ballot, but the devil is in the details. It’s really the responsibility of the governor to develop a proposal and take it to members of the House and Senate to try to get support for it and see if he has enough votes to get it on the ballot come November.”
Several bills have been filed dealing with curbing the sale of pseudoephedrine to decrease methamphetamine manufacturing, including making it a prescription-only medicine. Where do you stand on this issue?
Adams: “It’s an issue that is very sensitive because we’re getting it from both sides. We’re hearing from the drug manufacturers because they don’t want prescriptions for it. A lot of people who use it a lot do not want prescriptions. But, the law enforcement people are on our case because the proliferation of meth. My idea is to make it legal for people to purchase the gel caps in lieu of the tablets. The tablets is what they grind up or mash to make meth. The gel caps they can’t use. To me, I think that is the answer.”
Thayer: “I know that the methamphetamine problem is bad and getting worse in Kentucky. But, I don’t think believe the way to solve it is by requiring a prescription for Sudafed. I can’t support punishing the innocent, the 99 percent of people who required Sudafed to deal with their sinuses, allergies or cold symptoms. It will require that everyone go to their doctor to get a prescription. It will increase everyone’s health care costs. It will clog up the waiting rooms in the doctor’s office. Other states that have passed it, it hasn’t really helped. These meth makers figure out other ways to get the product. I think a good compromise is Rep. Brent Yonts’ bill that says that anyone convicted of a drug offense cannot get Sudafed. It takes what I think is a reasonable approach without punishing the majority of people who just need Sudafed to get them through the day.”
What do you see as the most pressing issue facing legislators this session?
Adams: I don’t think there is any doubt that it’s the budget. With the economy the way it is and the shortfall in Medicaid and all the revenue problems we got, I don’t think there is any more pressing issue. I fully anticipate it will take a lot of our time. Although I do think the redistricting will take up a huge portion of the early part of the session. That’s not completed yet and we’re required by law to redistrict every 10 years.”
Thayer: “Number one: Redistricting. We have to redraw the congressional Senate and House of Representative lines sometime in early January. That’s an important constitutional job that we’re required to do every 10 years. Secondly, obviously, the budget. We’re constitutionally required to do the budget every two years. We’re going to have to make some tough decisions. We need tackle it early so we don’t end up with these last-minute problems that could lead to adjourning without a budget like we’ve done in the past. We need to understand that we’re not going to be able to spend more than we take in. Families and businesses don’t, state government can’t either.”