In this edition, we talk about expanded gambling, payday loans, and the best and worst of Frankfort legislation.
Should Kentucky have expanded gambling, and if so, what is the best specific legislation to go about doing so?
Amy Shoemaker: As a Catholic, I have spent many a summer night at a Church picnic. In fact, I met my husband at the St. Joseph Orphan’s Picnic. So I am not opposed to gambling, and I believe Kentuckians deserve to vote on this issue as a means of generating revenue. As we saw from this session, perhaps tying it entirely to racetracks is not politically practical. However, we do need to assist our signature horse industry. But we also need to assist education, mental health services and a host of other programs that are direly underfunded. Ergo, the need for comprehensive revenue analysis, of which gaming should be a part.
Sarah Lynn Cunningham: I believe that if we expand gambling before we address the need for modernizing our tax structure and making it more fair, I think that we will put off the latter. Therefore, the only way that I would entertain a referendum to consider expanding gambling would be in the context of a comprehensive package of tax modernization and fairness. As a side note, I am going to be looking long and hard at the idea of modifying the state constitution to benefit a single for-profit industry, because I can think of lots of industries that would love for us to modify the constitution to their financial advantage.
Morgan McGarvey: I think the best way to pass expanded gaming is first to build a big enough consensus and coalition behind it to actually get it through the state legislature and onto the ballot. I think the way to do that is to go ahead and state that at least some of the money will go to protecting the horse industry, and a certain portion of the funds are going to go to protecting education. I think we also need to limit the number of casinos in Kentucky so that we’re not overrun and have slot machines in every truck stop down I-75 and I-65.
Gary Demling: I’ve spoken with a few horsemen. The HPBA is behind me, and the Jockeys’ Guild supports me, and a lot of the horse owners and trainers, because they don’t want to leave Kentucky. But they also have to understand it’s never going to pass if the tracks have so much on the top end of it. I think the best way to introduce it is to make sure they get part of it. Now if Churchill Downs wants to partner up with Harrah’s or whatever gaming institute, and reap some of the benefits from a downtown casino boat, as well as slots at the track, which are taxed, by the way, therefore it will pass better. Because I think, more importantly, people, from what I‘ve gathered, they didn’t like the fact that Churchill was getting too much on the top end. Now I don’t work at Churchill, I’m not lobbying for them and I can’t speak for them. But I do believe that we could reintroduce the bill in the correct way, where the money is dispersed to Churchill evenly through purses, keeping horses and jobs here. Also, people who don’t go to the racetrack, for Indiana and Ohio, are going to the waterfront, and spending money in our restaurants, helping our economic growth. Yum! Center gets tourism, because right now they can’t pay their note. And I think if Churchill got together with Republicans and Democrats, we could get this passed and do what’s best for Kentucky. And of course, I would really want to earmark some of that money for education, because we need more vocational programs in our schools.
Rep. Darryl Owens has introduced a bill the past few years that puts a 36 percent cap on the annualized interest of payday loans. Would you support such a bill?
Shoemaker: Heck yeah!
Cunningham: Hell yes.
McGarvey: I actually don’t know Darryl Owens’ specific bill, but yes, I would support a bill like that. I do think that’s appropriate.
Demling: Not quite. I’d rather see a bill introduced addressing unemployment checks. They’re taxed. What if we take those taxes and re-implement those into training programs to make people more employable. Or if they exempt them with some stipulations. As far as payday, I think that’s a little extreme. We’re already taxing the working-class too much. We can’t just sit there and keep penalizing people for making a hard, blue-collar day’s work. But on the other hand, we have to generate revenue. I understand that, and that’s one of the reasons I like the service tax, where it’s more of a tax on leisure activities instead of necessities.
In the past few years of Frankfort’s General Assembly, what is the best bill that has failed, and what is the worst bill that has failed?
Shoemaker: As a woman, I’m thrilled that the crazy informed consent bills haven’t made it through the House. I think informed consent bills are patronizing and they are particularly onerous on poor women. I would love to see the decriminalization of industrial hemp, and that didn’t get out of committee, even though it has bipartisan support. Also the child-bullying bill seems so easy, and so obvious to me, perhaps as a mother. But it really sort of lays out how much ugliness and discriminatory animus exists towards issues relating to sexual orientation within our state.
Cunningham: My instinct would be that the worst bill that was stopped was yet another impediment to women exercising their legal right to have an abortion. I would say the best bill by far would be the tax modernization bill of Rep. Jim Wayne, and also the energy bill that called for renewable portfolios and other measures to make us more sustainable from an energy perspective.
McGarvey: I think when you look in recent years, the biggest problem in terms of failing legislation we’ve had is our budget legislation. We had more special sessions, more bad budgets passed in the past 10 years, then almost in any time before that. The cuts to Kentucky are real, they’re severe, and they’re deep. We are not funding our higher education, we’ve stopped putting full funding into early childhood education, and even now with adjustments to the SEEK formula, we’re not fully funding education on the K-12 level. We need to make sure that we are investing in the right areas to move Kentucky forward, and we’ve been failing to do that every legislative session. In this session, the bill that I’m really glad didn’t pass was adding the University of Pikeville to the state university system. I think our eight public universities are already underfunded, and we did not have the room to add another.
Demling: Well of course the gaming bill. Granted, I don’t agree with the way that it was introduced. I’m a big proponent of the horse industry. But I think that a gaming boat downtown can co-exist with the racetracks, as long as the horse industry gets an equal share. And what I mean by that, we can’t sit there and have jobs going across the river to Indiana Downs or to New York, where the purses are increasing immensely. Because that’s losing jobs for tellers, that’s losing jobs for vendors, that’s losing jobs for horsemen, people who work on the backside as well. This is an industry that Kentucky’s known for. Now they can coexist if we earmark money for horse purses and races around the state, as well as breeding. We’re losing breeding rights to Indiana and Canada, even up towards New York and Pennsylvania, because it’s cheaper for them to breed there. We could reinvest money from gaming into the industry. I don’t believe that there should be a 60-mile block from Churchill Downs, a radius from any kind of gaming, because technically the Horseshoe is within 60 miles. And honestly, I think the gaming bill is both answers. The reason I say that is because we can’t sit there and block a boat downtown because it limits economic growth downtown. Tourism will increase. Local businesses and industries will benefit from that. So it’s the worst bill, because it was introduced improperly, and on the other hand it was the best bill. Because we need to pass it, we just need to reintroduce it.