Unlike the Kernel, don’t blame Beshear for Ky.’s budget woes

Column by Robert Kahne

Our state’s budget crisis has been in the news in a big way the past few days. Gov. Steve Beshear has reported to us that our budget is in a terrible state.

In the words of our governor in a Lexington Herald-Leader article on Sunday, “I sort of had this impression that the cupboard was going to be bare. I just didn’t know the cupboard was going to be gone, too.” The problem, as reported to us by Beshear, is dire. The state is spending hundreds of millions of dollars more than we are receiving in taxes. This problem is unsustainable on its own, but coupled with the problems with the state’s pension fund, we are in a bad pickle.

The solution to this problem as it relates to UK is a 3 percent budget cut this year and a cut of up to 12 percent for the 2008-09 fiscal year, the Kernel reported Wednesday. I hope that it doesn’t come to this.

I commend President Lee Todd, Council on Postsecondary Education President Brad Cowgill and the other university presidents for standing up for higher education and students by refusing to see such deep cuts in higher education. However, this problem does call for the tightening of belts by everything touched by state government, which includes UK.

We need to all face this reality: UK is required to be a top-20 university by the state legislature, and the legislature has refused to and is unable to fund us. Something has got to give in this situation. For four years, we had a governor who would not support us — now that we have a governor who will support us, we lack the funding.

The best solution I can think of is an increase in the cigarette tax that would give us the funds to cover the budget deficit during the current fiscal year, and hopefully it’ll be part of the future solution. Although the governor said during the campaign that he thought the citizens of Kentucky had been taxed enough, desperate times call for desperate measures.

I would be amiss if I didn’t spend at least a little time discussing how we got to this point. Our previous governor, Ernie Fletcher, attempted to save his political career by claiming he had created a $700 million surplus. During the campaign, Fletcher constantly brought this up, even going so far as calling for public forums about how to spend this money, according to an article in the Murray Ledger & Times on Dec. 16, 2006. As we see now, this was a complete and total farce. The government headed by Fletcher caused this problem, let there be no doubt.

This is why I will take offense at the editorial published by the Kernel on Jan. 9. The editorial excoriated Beshear for not living up to the “promises” of his campaign. Leaving aside the fact that Beshear was very nuanced by saying he supported these policies rather than saying that he promised to pursue them, Beshear did not have access to all the facts. Although it was suspected by many that Fletcher was not being entirely forthcoming about the budget facts, no one could have suspected such a terrible situation.

As the UK community, we should realize that we are not in for good times in the next few years. However, we must and will persevere. I have full confidence that the government we elected in November will clean up the awful mess left by the government we left behind. After UK and the rest of the state government weather the current storm, I fully believe that we will be able to move forward to great things.

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