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April 8, 2008

News Xtra: Statement on the 2009-2010 Budget of the Commonwealth

BY REP. JIM WAYNERep. Jim WayneMr. Speaker and fellow House members, tonight storm clouds are hovering over our commonwealth. These clouds have been moving in our direction for at least five years. Tonight they are threatening our schools and universities, our health and mental health services, our public safety and court systems, our transportation networks and other essential government functions that our citizens demand. Tonight our commonwealth faces a financial crisis that is unprecedented in my 18 years of service in this chamber. In recent years we have patched together budgets that have at least kept us from falling behind in basic public services. But because we have failed to alter our system of taxation and because of the current recession, we are now asked to support a budget that will ensure we will get sicker, be less educated, have less access to basic justice in our courts, and drive on unsafe highways. As a result, some of our citizens, mostly the weakest and vulnerable, will surely die premature deaths. This storm did not spring upon the horizon without warning. In 2002 and 2003 the Fox Report predicted the disaster we currently face. In a thorough study of our tax system, and government services, Dr. Fox stated we would be forced to deal with a billion-dollar hole in the state’s checkbook by 2009 and 2010. He recommended an overhaul of our out-of-date, inadequate and unjust tax laws to make sure we serve our people well by investing in our pre-K through grade 12 public schools, our universities and vocational training schools, health and mental health services, transportation and public safety.Following this report, Gov. Paul Patton proposed a progressive tax reform program that would have avoided the fiscal crisis we now face. Many of you joined me over the past eight years in sponsoring comprehensive reform legislation. These plans have all been largely ignored by the House and Senate.Instead, we choose to whistle our way through the darkness created by the black storm clouds gathering around us. We have stolen money from boards and commissions to fill up this hole and that hole in the budget. We have borrowed money that our grandchildren will be paying to avoid raising taxes to pay for today’s essential services. We have shifted tax increases to the university students and their struggling families in the form of double-digit tuition increases over the last five years. We have continued to overtax the lowest wage earners to ensure the wealthiest are given huge tax breaks. This year we even suck money from the lottery, causing long-term damage to this cash cow.Tonight we have a choice. We can pass the inadequate, iniquitous budget and surrender to the worst instincts within us, or we can take on the full responsibilities of our office. Doing the latter takes courage. It requires us to do the right thing for the hardworking, caring, yet vulnerable people who call this commonwealth home.It means going back to the 2003 Fox Report and designing a tax system that is adequate, fair, and tied to a 21st century economy, not a mid-20th century economy. With the money generated we can properly invest in what matters the most: our people. Our schools and universities, our mental health and healthcare systems, our courts, our roads and bridges will have the money they need. We are privileged to be here tonight, representing the interests of over 4 million people who are blessed to live their lives in one of the most beautiful spots on earth. In this moment in history we are given the heavy responsibility of crafting a state government that serves these wonderful people. I pray we do not shirk our duty to be bold leaders in a troubling period in our history. I pray we return to the conference rooms and redraft a budget and tax plan to serve the important needs of Kentuckians from the mountains to the Mississippi. To do anything less would be a failure. Jim Wayne is a Democratic state representative for the 35th district in Louisville. He delivered these remarks on the House floor on April 2. Neither the House nor the Senate took Wayne’s lead, passing a budget last week that leaves considerable holes in the areas Wayne addresses here. Wayne voted against the budget bill. Contact the writer at citystrobe@leoweekly.com