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April 11, 2006

Kentucky’s got debt — but no game

The General Assembly overwhelmingly has approved an extraordinary budget — with unprecedented debt. The two-year, $18 billion spending plan has been called the most education-friendly and fiscally frightful in recent memory. It contains $2.38 billion in debt, breaking the record $1.9 billion added last year.

Once again, Sen. David Boswell (D-Owensboro) stood on the floor of the Senate Monday to remind colleagues that their unwillingness to give casino gaming a chance is a mammoth missed opportunity — as mammoth as the tax revenues that are gushing across the river like rush hour traffic.

“One billion dollars a year is leaving this state,” he said.

Last session, the Daviess County Democrat presented a bill that provided for a 35-percent gaming tax that would have generated more than $460 million a year.

“What are we going to do about the $800 million annual debt service that we’re expected to pay?” Boswell asked.

This session commenced with high hopes for expanded gaming legislation, but leadership proved too timid. Gov. Fletcher won’t alienate his conservative constituency by publicly supporting slot machines at the tracks, while Churchill Downs’ officials won’t stop alienating tasteful Kentuckians with architectural abominations or threats to headquarter elsewhere.

The bottom line is that Boswell has a point. The time has come for Kentucky to stop losing by default and start competing for a piece of the casino pie.

Using generous portions of the proceeds to identify and treat our addicts in a progressive, effective way would build the argument that it would be immoral not to take the initiative. The Healing Place, after all, is a national model for substance abuse recovery. Why not make Louisville the epicenter of treatment for compulsive gambling?

“I hope that we will open our eyes and allow the voters of this state to vote on a constitutional amendment to take advantage of this revenue,” Boswell said.

BY STEVE SHAW
leo@leoweekly.com