Ky. voters deserve honest wording

We support the general spirit of Gov. Steve Beshear’s casino proposal, and that is to generate revenue to fund education and health care.

On Feb. 14, Beshear released his plan for a constitutional amendment that calls for up to 12 casinos in Kentucky. The proposal would allocate 50 percent of casino revenue to education at all levels and 20 percent to health care.

In a time when the state’s budgetary outlook is grim, Beshear’s plan seems to promise a much-needed boost for the state economy. The plan would raise $500 million in revenue between July 2008 and June 2009 from application and license fees, and after the casinos are up and running, the gaming would bring in $600 million per year, Beshear said.

However, Beshear’s plan is still a work in progress. Certain details of the plan need improvement, and it is our hope that members of the General Assembly work together and present a final bill that would accomplish what it intended.

First and foremost, the amendment that goes before Kentucky voters should not use misleading language to inflate support for the proposal. That means the proposed ballot question needs to change.

It currently reads: “Are you in favor of increasing state financial support for elementary and secondary education; expanding health care for senior citizens, children, and others; local governments; combating drug and alcohol abuse; and other important programs, by permitting the General Assembly to authorize up to five casinos, subject to approval of the voters in the city or county where the casino is located, and up to seven casinos licenses for existing horse racing associations, all of which will be subject to the approval of a state agency created to oversee casino gaming?”

Following a list of policy goals that almost anyone would support, the first mention of casinos arrives halfway through the 90-word question. An inattentive voter could mistake the proposal for a relatively uncontroversial levy for greater social spending.

To ensure that the voters’ opinions are accurately reflected in the vote, the question presented to them must be worded fairly, objectively and without misleading wording. The proposed question as it stands, however, is anything but fair and objective.

Voters should be asked whether they support the establishment of casinos in the state granted that the revenue raised would be used toward funding education, health care and other programs, not whether they want to solve all the state’s social problems by passing the amendment. The word “casino” should appear less than 10 words into the question, not 45.

Opening casinos in the state may help alleviate the state’s budget woes, but it is up to the people of Kentucky to weigh the pros and cons of such a move. Trying to hide the real issue behind gaudy and misleading language, as Beshear’s proposed question to the voters does, is an act of dishonesty and should not be allowed by the state legislators.

Casinos could change the economic and social landscape of this state, and Kentucky citizens deserve to have the final say over whether they’re comfortable with that change. But their choice will not be legitimate unless the question posed to them is forthright.