Patton calls for no cuts in higher education

Joe Lord

So it begins.

After months of anticipation, Gov. Paul Patton finally announced his budget proposal last night to the General Assembly in Frankfort. His plan calls for increases in business and tobacco taxes and would allow Western to keep its $1.4 million of unbudgeted tuition.

The speech begins another round of budget talks by legislators, who couldn’t agree on a budget proposal last year.

Under Patton’s plan, higher education would be funded at the same level as in his original budget proposal last year, said Beth Jurek, deputy state budget director.

“Our colleges and universities are our future,” Patton told legislators last night. His budget would fund construction or renovation projects at all eight of Kentucky’s state universities.

President Gary Ransdell said $16 million of state money would go toward the renovation of Western’s science complex under Patton’s plan.

Patton said his budget would also fund the Bucks for Brains matching funds program.

But hold the cheers.

State Sen. Richie Sanders, R-Franklin, said Patton’s budget proposal will likely not be approved by the legislature.

Sanders, chairman of the Senate budget committee, said despite Patton’s push, there will likely be no capital projects approved during this budget cycle.

Ransdell agreed.

“Much of that will be dead on arrival in Frankfort,” Ransdell said. “My hope is [that] much of what he proposes does get some interest and provides some balance between new revenues and budget reductions.”

Patton is proposing a $573 million tax plan, with increased business and cigarette taxes.

The plan would expand Kentucky’s sales tax to some services, such as car washes and dry cleaners, according to a press release on Patton’s Web site. There would also be admission fees on bowling and on amusement park rides.

“If we raise no taxes, we’ll put Kentucky back a generation,” Patton told legislators last night.

In his address to the General Assembly, Patton urged legislators to accept his 17 changes to the state’s tax plan — focusing on corporate taxes.

Kentucky’s government has been running off an emergency spending plan from Patton since July.

The state budget was supposed to be approved during last year’s General Assembly session, but disputes between the two chambers ended with legislators leaving Frankfort without a passed plan.

The Senate is doing an analysis of the state government to make sure it is running as efficiently as possible, Sanders said. If money is still lacking after spending is reduced, the Senate will consider increasing taxes.

Sanders had not yet seen the complete version of Patton’s budget proposal yesterday afternoon. But from what he had seen, there was cause for concern.

“I don’t see any chance for the service tax and business tax, not as the governor proposed it,” he said.

Neither proposal has strong support among legislators, Sanders said. There may be more support for an increase on cigarette taxes, which Patton would increase from 3 cents to 40 cents.

Ransdell said the state budget picture will become clear by the end of February.

“We’re going to have a budget cut, I’m quite certain,” he said. “It just hasn’t been determined how much yet.”

It will take a three-fifths majority of both houses to pass a budget.

Robbin Taylor, director of government relations at Western, said the legislature may not need to have a special session this spring to approve a budget — a change of thought since last month.

Sanders said the House seemed more poised to cooperate than last year.

“It seems like they’re looking at a lot of the similar things we’re looking at on the Senate side,” he said.

Reach Joe Lord at [email protected]