Budget will be legislators priority

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VLTs, legislative pensions, abortion legislation likely to be on the agenda, Higdon says

By Stephen Lega

The state budget forecast is gloomy, no matter who you ask.

The Consensus Forecasting Group is projecting a budget shortfall of $900 million during the next two years, and that's the optimistic view.

Gov. Steve Beshear told legislative leaders last week that the CFG's forecast did not include some expenses, such as retirement contributions, increasing health insurance costs and prison population growth. As a result, the Governor's office is anticipating a shortfall closer to $1.5 billion.

"It's critical that we - the General Assembly and I - have a clear picture of the real shortfall figure," Beshear said in a press statement. "With accurate information, we can make better decisions on balancing this budget."

The General Assembly opened its 2010 regular session yesterday.

Newly-elected State Sen. Jimmy Higdon said the state budget varies with the economy. In a down economy, the state's coffers are low as well.

Higdon said the state has a few options. First, it could raise taxes to generate the additional $1.5 billion.

"That's not going to happen," he said. "I do not support any tax increases."

Second, the state can cut spending. Higdon said the first step is to look for obsolete programs and wasteful spending. If that isn't enough, the legislature will need to take a hard look at every department.

"You have to prioritize education, human services and public protection," Higdon said.

The budget is a multi-step process that will begin with the Governor's budget address, which is scheduled for Jan. 19. Higdon said he would caution people not to get upset when the Governor's version of the budget is released because that is the first part of the process.

At that point, the Kentucky House of Representatives will begin work on its version of the budget.

"Hopefully, by the end of January or early February, they will send that over to the Senate," Higdon said.

The Senate will then prepare it's own version of the budget. Higdon recently learned that he will be a member of the Senate Appropriations and Revenue Committee, which means he will be involved in crafting the 2011-12 fiscal year budgets.

Once both versions are ready, it's common for a conference committee to meet to work out a compromise version of the budget.

Higdon added that he has also learned that he will be appointed to the education, transportation, and the state and local government committees.

The budget will be the predominant issue facing the legislature, but it's not the only issue they'll be addressing.

Expanded gaming in the form of Video Lottery Terminals was discussed prior to the Dec. 8 special election, which Higdon won. Higdon reiterated his view that the public, not the legislature, should decide whether or not VLTs will be allowed in the state.

"I'm going to do everything that I can to live up to that campaign promise," he said.

One of the bills Higdon has pre-filed for the 2010 session, BR 844, has gotten attention statewide. The bill proposes to end a benefit for legislators, which allows them to accept a higher paying state government position after leaving the legislator, and then have their retirement payments based on their income from their new position.

This is the same as a bill Higdon filed in the House as a state representative. Higdon had to re-file the bill after he became a state senator.

In other matters, Higdon expects legislation in January to change the "informed consent" statutes regarding abortion. One proposed bill would direct a doctor to make a sonogram picture available to a woman considering having an abortion.

Higdon added that he also anticipates legislation proposing strengthening legislative ethics, putting all government spending online, and improving math and science education.

As the legislative session progresses, Higdon encourages citizens to contact him with any questions or concerns.

"If you see something on the news, pick up the phone and let me know your opinion," he said.

Editor's note: Higdon can be reached at (270) 692-6945 or in Frankfort at 1 (800) 372-7181. The TTY message line is 1 (800) 896-0305.

  Higdon hosting prayer breakfast Jan. 9

Newly-elected State Sen. Jimmy Higdon will be hosting a prayer breakfast Saturday, Jan. 9.

The breakfast will be held at 8 a.m. Jan. 9 at Lebanon United Methodist Church, 236 N. Spalding Avenue in Lebanon. The prayer service will begin at 9 a.m.

Elected officials and ministers from throughout the 14th District, which includes Marion, Mercer, Nelson, Taylor and Washington counties, have been invited to participate and to share their ideas and concerns about the 2010 legislative session.

For more information, call Higdon at (270) 402-2609 or Rev. Darren Gillespie (270) 692-2761.