So here is where we are: Gov. Beshear’s big plan to bring Kentucky back from ferocious debt — casino gaming — is dead. And here in KY, you can’t bring forth a constitutional amendment in an odd-numbered year, so this initiative won’t even re-emerge until 2010, if ever.
In honor of the death of Beshear’s game plan, a few thoughts.
• What a great political maneuver by Senate Republicans. By blocking the shit out of Beshear’s plan to let voters decide whether to allow expanding gaming in the state (it’s likely to have passed easily), Sen. David Williams and his minions have forced Beshear into the most dangerous position a Democratic political animal can be in: He must raise taxes. And it hasn’t taken long for the Gub to turn back on that campaign pledge: When it became clear that casinos would be stalled, he suggested raising the cigarette tax 70 cents.
• I’m all for jacking the tax on cigarettes, and here’s why: It’s a tax on a habit and KY needs money. I understand quite well the nature of nicotine addiction (four years without a smoke!), and so I’m not going to argue about whether smoking is a choice once you’re hooked. At some point, though, it is a consumer choice, and if you don’t want to pay 70 cents more per pack, don’t. KY’s tobacco farmers won’t be directly affected by a hike in the tax per pack, even though that seems to be an implied sort of rallying cry in these discussions. Unfortunately for Beshear, House Speaker Jody Richards and leader Harry Moberly prefer adding 25 cents to the cigarette tax. Why the lower tax? Fear.
• Which brings me to this thought: Wouldn’t it be nice if these jackals in Frankfort could summon some political courage about now? Every one of them with any bit of sway is beholden to image and afraid to lose rhetorical wars to David Williams. They’re as afraid to take bold stances as they are of getting caught dry humping a slot machine at 3 a.m., all sweaty palms and cheap cologne. Meanwhile, the state is looking at a $900 million shortfall, and the new governor is already bereft of political capital and, it appears, good ideas.
• Speaking of good ideas, I want to share an anecdote about Beshear’s casino proposal and the doom we here at LEO foresaw last summer. As is our custom, our editorial brain trust met with each candidate and conducted a lengthy interview. We printed their answers in two subsequent issues. When Beshear was across the table, naturally he paraded his expanded gaming initiative as his “big idea,” the key to moving the state forward in some measurable economic way. We asked him what he would do if it failed. He refused to answer the question, instead continuing the parade of benefits the extra money would offer the state. We asked again, directly: What if it fails? And again, Beshear evaded the question. The closest he came to answering was to say, in essence, that he would not allow it to fail, that by the sheer force of his personality, Beshear would ensure a constitutional amendment to allow casino gambling would appear on the ballot in 2008.
What a strange, devastating miscalculation. (SG)