Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Solving the state's budget crunch (Part one of a series)

Our state's clueless governor continued his poor-mouthing of the state's financial picture this week, saying the revenue estimates issued by the Consensus Forecasting Group are better than expected but still not good enough. (No doubt he'll continue his drumbeat for casino gambling in the state as he still frantically tries to get gambling approved in Kentucky to appease those who financed his 2007 campaign and who he will want to pony up the cash in two years.)

While we are still very skeptical of the doomsday scenario Steve Beshear continues to lay out, we do agree that there are lots of places where the state could cut budges and make financial improvements. We'll be offering ideas to our intellectually-challenged governor over the next several weeks.

One way the state could cut costs is to restrict state vehicle usage. Gov. Ernie Fletcher's administration made great strides in this regard. They put severe limits on the number of people who could drive state vehicles home and back to work. By the end of the Fletcher administration, basically the only people who could drive a vehicle after hours were those who were subject to being called out for an emergency during the night, such as traffic signal technicians and county maintenance garage superintendents. Others had to drive their personal vehicles to and from work, just as most of the rest of us out in the world have to do.

Under the Beshear administration, this trend has been slowly being reversed. More and more people are being given permission to drive their state vehicles home, or even to use them for personal errands during lunch. Some of these people drive long distances; commutes of an hour or so. While it's great for them because they are not buying gas or wearing out their own vehicles, it's a burden on the taxpayers.

It's time for the use of state vehicles to be restricted to business use only. Only those with legitimate emergency needs should be able to drive to and from work in a state car or truck. No employee should be allowed to drive their personal vehicle to work and then take their state vehicle to Wendy's or Walmart during lunch.

When state employees hear tales of woe about the state's budget and wonder why they aren't getting their statutory raises, then see a select few abusing their state vehicles, morale is shot and the workers become even more unproductive. And they wonder about the colossal waste of money they see under their noses.

It's time for the Beshear administration to put curbs on the personal use of state vehicles, for appearances as well as for budgetary reasons.

More whining for slot machines at horse tracks

It was interesting to learn today that Kentucky isn't the only place where the horse racing interests are whining that they can't survive without slot machines at the tracks. New York's horsey folks are making the same claim. And they're saying the Belmont Stakes, the last and longest of the three jewels in the Triple Crown that begins with the Kentucky Derby, is in danger unless something is done.

We have to wonder: Does the horse industry have a collective one-track mind? Is "slots, slots, slots" all they can think about? Are they unable to come up with innovative and original ways to promote their business? Do they have to rely on gimmicks to survive?

We find it very funny that people, mostly on the left, are trying to prop up what is obviously a dying industry -- one that is for purely frivolous and entertainment purposes -- that is said to be one of our state's signature industries, while they can't race fast enough to kill another one of our state's signature industries -- coal mining -- that is absolutely essential to our way of life; indeed, our very survival.

We fully intend to expound on that at some point in the future, but for now we just chuckle in amusement at the lack of originality shown by the horsey set when it comes to making their business viable and pertinent. Can't they be any more innovative than slot machines?

And we're still waiting for the Rand Paul supporters to weigh in on whether or not they think casino-style gambling is good public policy in Kentucky.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

An interesting observation about Rand Paul's supporters

We hadn't heard a peep out of the supporters of Rand Paul's Senate campaign until we posted a tongue-in-cheek note prior to Thanksgiving that we were thankful they hadn't inundated this blog the way they have others in Kentucky, both on the right side and on the wrong side.

Someone must've tipped them off to that post, because several of them replied. Oddly enough, they've been silent since then.

In fact, we can't really recall seeing them posting about Kentucky issues on any blog.

We don't have a mechanism here to check IP addresses of visitors or commenters, but other blogs do. Most of them have noted that the vast majority of pro-Paul traffic comes from outside of the Bluegrass State. The theory is that these are supporters of Ron Paul's failed presidential bid who are coalescing behind his son.

Most of the Paul supporters -- derisively called "Paultards" by some -- talk about things like closing the Gitmo prison for terrorists, repealing the Patriot Act, and ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (the latter effectively ending the hunt for Osama bin Laden), and other such issues. Thus far, none of them seem to have any knowledge of, or interest in, Kentucky issues.

So we wonder. What's the position of the Paul supporters on casino gambling in Kentucky or slot machines at horse racing tracks? What do they think about Kentucky's current budget situation? What about funding for the East End Bridge in Louisville? Fighting the battle against illegal use of prescription drugs and the boom in meth making and usage? Texting while driving? The Kentucky League of Cities and KaCO? The firing of Ron Mills?

Yes, we know these are mostly state issues that aren't particularly relevant at the federal level, but they are Kentucky issues and whomever takes Jim Bunning's place will be representing Kentucky.

We guess our question is this: Do the Rand Paul supporters and money-bombers have any interest in, or knowledge of, this state's unique issues? Or are they looking to elect a senator, any senator, who mirrors their hero's positions and have lucked into having his son run in the commonwealth?

For the record, we support neither Paul nor Grayson. None of us here at K-Pac will be voting for either of them in the Republican primary. So Rand's Randies shouldn't think we are a pro-Grayson or "GOP establishment" mouthpiece, as we were accused of being earlier. But we do wonder just how much of a grasp on Kentucky politics the Paul fanatics and donors from elsewhere really have.

Friday, December 11, 2009

A better idea

News comes today that the Kentucky Department of Education will be seeking authority from the legislature next year to remove school superintendents and/or duly elected school board members in school districts where students don't perform well.

We have a better idea. How about removing the teachers whose students don't perform well?

After all, no state agency has the authority to remove a county judge-executive or magistrate or county road foreman if the local road crew doesn't perform very well. And school board members actually have very little authority over school districts anymore, thanks to KERA. Likewise, superintendents have basically had their hands tied behind their backs when it comes to dealing with persistently poor schools.

The teachers are the ones who are responsible for how well students do, not the superintendent or the elected school board members. They are the ones who should be accountable for the kids' performance in the classroom.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Beshear sacrificing state employees on altar of casino gambling

Even before he took office as governor, Steve Beshear started poor-mouthing the state's budgetary outlook in order to promote the establishment of casino gambling in Kentucky. So far he's been unsuccessful, but now it appears that he plans on sacrificing some state employees in an attempt to pay off the gambling interests that bankrolled his 2007 campaign.

In his latest dire prediction in a series of dire predictions, Beshear claims that the next round of budget cuts made necessary by a poor economy will likely include furloughs or layoffs of state employees.

In other words, if we don't pass casino gambling soon, state employees will start losing their jobs.

That's a fine way to treat some of your most loyal supporters. State workers are a reliable constituency for Democrats, in large part due to decades of patronage hiring. (Democrats account for around 75 percent of all state merit system workers). Fueled in large part by lies told about the Fletcher administration's treatment of state workers -- contrary to rumor, not one non-probationary merit employee was fired for political reasons during the Fletcher years -- state workers voted in droves for Beshear.

But unfortunately for them, state employees are a forgotten constituency with Democrats. Once they are used for their bloc of votes, they are summarily discarded until the next election comes along. State law requires merit system workers to receive a 5 percent raise every year, but that law is rarely obeyed by the legislature and governor when they craft the state budget. Yet state workers will again flock to the polls to vote for a Democrat in every governor's race.

Now Beshear threatens this constituency with layoffs if he can't appease the casino moguls. He's basically bought a couple of state Senate seats with taxpayer dollars in an attempt to make that chamber more receptive to passing a gambling measure; now he's going to use the salaries of state workers as a bribe.

Any state worker who would consider voting for Beshear for re-election is insane. You've seen how little he values you; you're just a pawn in his high-stakes games with the casino bosses. And while it's true that state government is overstaffed well in excess of the 33,000-employee statutory limit, the folks currently working for the state didn't ask to be tossed away so Beshear can pay back his moneyed supporters.

We've never believed Beshear's poor-mouthing, especially since he started it even before taking office when the Fletcher administration had left the state in excellent financial condition. We always believed it to be a front for his support for casino gambling, and we continue to believe it.

If the state really is in dire financial straits and in need of budget cuts, we can identify several places where expenditures can be trimmed without requiring layoffs of state merit workers, many of whom do hard work for low salaries even if they are patronage hirelings. We'll be posting some of our ideas in the next few days and weeks and we invite readers to do the same.

In the meantime, Steve Beshear should be ashamed of himself. These are real people's real lives he's considering messing with to pay off his campaign contributors. You can bet -- pun intended -- that Ernie Fletcher would never have done such a thing.