Beshear: Ky. should increase UK funds

By Chris DeLotell

Organizers of Friday’s governor’s forum had hoped the two candidates for Kentucky’s highest office would have a discussion on the main issues in the race.

But with Republican Gov. Ernie Fletcher declining to attend, the Student Government-sponsored event turned into an open mic for Democratic nominee Steve Beshear.

He used the opportunity to express support for UK’s Top 20 Business Plan and to encourage a ballot initiative for a constitutional amendment to legalize gaming in Kentucky.

Beshear, a graduate of UK and the UK College of Law who served as student body president in the 1964-65 school year, embraced the top-20 initiative.

“The University of Kentucky can and will arrive in the top 20 public research institutions by the year 2020,” Beshear said. “That’s a goal that is achievable, and that’s a goal that the administration, faculty, staff and students are all working very hard on.”

However, the state legislature must provide more funding to help UK reach top-20 status, Beshear said.

“The state has an obligation to help our universities meet those goals,” he said.

The lack of funding from the legislature has forced state universities to raise tuition, and room and board costs, Beshear said.

“With one hand Frankfort has said, ‘Here are your goals, and we expect you to meet these goals. You’re supposed to be a top-20 research institution by 2020.’ ” Beshear said. “But with the other hand, state government has pulled back the financial support for the university to meet those goals. So the university has done what it could with the few areas where it can raise money.”

“That’s why you’ve seen the tuition and room and board continue to ratchet upward,” he added.

Beshear promised to raise higher-education funding if he is elected governor.

“We’re going to fund the universities better, so they can reach those goals and start holding those tuition rates down,” he said.

Beshear’s support for the top-20 plan made a positive impression on Nick Dimengo, an English senior.

“It seems like he’s dedicated to help out the university and fund the university as best as he can,” Dimengo said.

The issue of legalizing gaming has been a hot topic in the campaign, and Beshear, who supports placing the issue on the ballot, said gaming would raise an extra $500 million in tax dollars for the state. Kentuckians currently spend $1 billion on gaming entertainment in other states, Beshear said.

“My argument is, if Kentuckians are going to spend that money anyway on that kind of entertainment, let’s get them to spend it here,” Beshear said, “so that we can use the money to educate our children, pave our roads and lower our health-care costs.”

Beshear said he will consider putting a ban on any increase in tuition if the gaming amendment is passed.

Beshear was the only speaker at the forum, as Fletcher was unable to attend because of scheduling conflicts, a spokesman for the governor said Sept. 26.

Fletcher’s absence hurt his image, said English and political science senior Meghan Arrell.

“He wasn’t here four years ago either, but at least he sent a representative then,” she said. “I couldn’t believe that no one was here from his party. I think it just looks bad. It shows that he doesn’t care.”