Larger cigarette tax increase could save state jobs from cuts

I hope everybody had a great Spring Break. While we were all away at our destinations of choice, the world continued to spin, and news was made both in our state and across the country.

The Kentucky legislative session is winding down. The piece of legislation most important to those of us in the higher education community without a doubt is the budget. When Gov. Steve Beshear announced his plan to cut higher education by 12 percent in the next two years, a firestorm erupted. That firestorm was effective, however, because the cut was eliminated by the courageous Kentucky House of Representatives, which is controlled by the Democratic Party.

Restoring the 12 percent cut was not an easy task, and may yet be stymied. Rep. Harry Moberly, D-Richmond, who chairs the House budget committee, has been brave in the steps he has taken. The state’s debt has been restructured, saving us nearly $300 million. The cigarette tax was raised 25 cents, and taxes were raised on luxury items like charter airplanes. Although raising taxes is always controversial, this has been possibly the least contentious part of the House’s revenue raising plan.

The more controversial piece of this revenue plan has been blocking the administration from hiring workers to replace retirees. Sixty percent of retiring workers’ jobs, or around 3,400, will not be filled again. This places a major strain on the executive branch, and the governor has already expressed his extreme consternation.

In January, I wrote that the most effective way to get out of the budget hole dug for us by the Fletcher administration would be to raise the cigarette tax by 70 cents — a proposal the governor has recently come out in favor of. Both legislative bodies have failed to take up this issue; the House chose instead to raise the cigarette tax by 25 cents.

I am glad to see that the House has taken other steps to increase revenue, but they should go in tandem with a 70-cent hike in the cigarette tax. Perhaps then the executive branch would not be under such strain, and higher education could be better funded.

This has not been an easy budget year, but I feel that coming away from this experience, we should remember two things. The first is that we arrived in this position because of the Ernie Fletcher administration’s incompetence. Instead of being a good steward of the budget and of the state’s coffers, Fletcher chose to spend lots of money on foolish projects in a vain attempt to get re-elected. Also, instead of making tough decisions to finance the state with recurring income, we used one-time revenue increases. This has created our current budget problems.

The second thing we should remember is that the rest of the state is making huge sacrifices so we can receive the level of funding which we have now. Next month, when we are paying our taxes, don’t feel bad about having to pay the state of Kentucky — the truth of the matter is that we are nowhere near the revenue level where we should be. Instead, either enjoy the fact that our taxes are so low in Kentucky, or (like me) be sad that Kentucky continually fails to make the hard decisions that would bring about positive change in this state.

Robert Kahne is the president of UK College Democrats. E-mail [email protected]