State approves budget with 6% cut

It’s over.

After 60 days of deliberations, the legislature brought the 2008 session of the General Assembly to a close by approving a budget for the next two years. The budget adds another 3 percent cut to higher education on top of a 3 percent cut already in place.

The budget doesn’t include tax increases or rely on funding from Gov. Steve Beshear’s failed plan to bring casinos into Kentucky. Instead, it will raise money by taking more from the state lottery revenues each year, restructuring the state’s debt and not replacing about 3,400 state workers after they retire this year.

The House and Senate passed their budget a day after Beshear returned the document with 10 line-item vetoes.

The vetoes included changes, like cutting $1.2 million from the ConnectKentucky program, which aims to make broadband Internet access available throughout the state, and a move that stopped the Horse Racing Authority from collecting assessments from tracks that take less than $1.2 million per day on average.

Five hot issues from this year’s session

Casino gaming

One of Gov. Steve Beshear’s key campaign issues was casino gaming, expected to bring in revenue to Kentucky as the state faced a $900-million deficit the next two years. In February, Beshear introduced a plan to allow Kentuckians to vote on a constitutional amendment allowing 12 casinos in Kentucky, including one shared between Keeneland and Red Mile racetracks in Lexington. However, the bill failed to gain the support needed to move out of the House.

Domestic-partner benefits

A bill banning domestic-partner benefits at public universities and other state institutions easily passed the Senate in a 30-5 vote in January. However, when a House committee voted, the bill failed 9-6, stopping it from getting to the House floor. The bill, similar to one that failed last year, would have impacted the domestic-partner benefits offered at UK and the University of Louisville. About 60 UK employees currently use the domestic-partner benefits package, said UK spokesman Jay Blanton.

Concealed carry law

The debate over whether to allow students to carry concealed weapons on campus if they have a license for the weapon provoked strong reactions on both sides of the aisle and on UK’s campus. Some, such as members of the organization Students for Concealed Carry on Campus, said it was a matter of Second Amendment rights. Others, including UK President Lee Todd, said allowing weapons on campus would endanger students. The bill never made it out of the House committee where it was started.

Cigarette tax

When the House of Representatives created its draft for the 2008-10 state budget, one way it recommended bringing in money was by increasing Kentucky’s cigarette tax. The cigarette tax would nearly double, up 25 cents per pack from the 30 cents currently levied. When the House and the Senate negotiated a budget to send to the governor, though, both the cigarette tax and a 1.5-cent gas tax were left out.

Primary elections

With a May 20 primary, Kentucky normally does not have much say in who each party chooses as the presidential nominee. A bill pushing up the primary to Feb. 5 passed in the House in January and was approved by the Senate the next month. The change would take effect during the next round of presidential primaries in 2012.