TheTimesTribune.com, Corbin, KY

February 20, 2013

Redistricting, pension fix remain hot topics


The Times-Tribune

CORBIN — By Ronnie Ellis

CNHI News Service

Tuesday was the final day to file bills in the state House but that doesn’t mean the possibility of a House redistricting plan or using instant racing revenues to fund a pension system fix are dead.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, has maintained the Democratic-controlled House should go ahead with its own redistricting plan even if the Republican-controlled Senate wants to wait for next year. The two chambers traditionally agree to pass the other’s plans.

While the Senate passed a bill to reform the state employee pension system, that bill provides no funding or a source of funding to comply with a key recommendation of a pension task force that came up with the elements of the bill passed by the Senate.

Stumbo has said all along the bill should provide a dedicated funding source and he’s mentioned both instant racing proceeds and proceeds from an increase in the cigarette tax.

On Tuesday the Speaker said two “vehicle” bills – essentially blank bills which can later be amended – would be filed, one of which could later be amended to carry both a pension fix funding mechanism and another which could subsequently be amended to carry a redistricting plan.

Last Friday, Sen. Johnny Ray Turner, D-Prestonsburg, filed a bill in the Senate to allow instant racing or historical racing, a form of pari-mutuel betting on races which have already occurred but the results of which aren’t known to the better.

A Franklin Circuit Court ruled instant racing constitutional, but the Family Foundation appealed and the matter is now before the Kentucky Supreme Court. Turner’s bill would render the court case moot.

The bill came on the same day that the Lexington Herald-Leader reported that Keeneland Association announced it is partnering with Full House Resorts to buy a racing track in Prestonsburg and move it to the Corbin area where the partners would offer quarter-horse racing and instant racing games.

Stumbo suggested the state take from those games could pay for the annually required contribution to the pension system, estimated at $327 million next year. The Republican Senate president, Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, has said projected revenue growths are enough to fund the pension fix.

But Gov. Steve Beshear says the projected revenue growth will be eaten up replacing one-time money in the current budget and natural growth in Medicaid and other programs.

Beshear said Tuesday he’s always supported the idea of instant racing but thinks the revenue will be insufficient to provide significant general fund revenues that casino gambling would create. But he said he sees no likelihood of casino gambling passing this year.

While the governor didn’t specifically endorse Stumbo’s suggestion to use instant racing revenues or money from an increase in the cigarette tax, he said he appreciates the Speaker’s attempts to find ways to fund the pension system fix.

He agrees with Stumbo that some funding source must be found if lawmakers approve the other measures in the Senate bill.

“The one thing I’m not going to do is to arrive next January, when we have a budget session and many of the legislature look at me and say, ‘Well, if you need a $100 million to put in the pensions plan, go find it someplace,’” Beshear said.

“We’ve already found all that money,” the governor continued. “We’ve balanced our budget for five years; we’ve cut $1.6 billion out of our budget over the past five years. There aren’t any more big pots of money.”

Stumbo said some combination of revenues from an increase in the cigarette tax and other revenue sources such as instant racing might be in the final House plan.

But he saw no likelihood that tax reform will pass in the 30-day non-budget session which requires a three-fifths majority to pass revenue measures.

As for the redistricting plan, Stumbo said mountain legislators from eastern Kentucky are still trying to work out a map for that region. The rest of the state is pretty much done, he said.

Eastern Kentucky has seen population losses meaning those Democratic lawmakers have to pick up voters in their districts.

RONNIE ELLIS writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at rellis@cnhi.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.