WKYT | Lexington, Kentucky | News

Senate Plan Would Release 2,000 Inmates & Use More Lottery Revenue

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - A Senate spending plan to run state
government for the next two years would release up to 2,000 felons
from prison and put them into home incarceration or drug treatment
programs.
The plan would allow for the release of nonviolent and
non-sexual felony offenders and place them in drug treatment
programs or home monitoring programs. State government could save
up to nearly $50 million over the next two fiscal years under the
proposal, lawmakers said.
"If we can put these people in treatment, as opposed to
incarcerating them where they get no treatment the savings will be
tremendous," said Sen. Charlie Borders, Senate Appropriations and
Revenue Committee chairman. "Because, not only will it get the
people to treatment where we hope they won't be second, third,
fourth time offenders but now they become taxpaying contributors
because they're able to get jobs and become a contributing citizen
as opposed to locking them away for ever and without treatment."
The Senate Appropriations and Revenue Committee approved the
two-year spending plan Monday. The full Senate was expected to
consider it later in the day.
Kentucky lawmakers are facing a grisly economic forecast based
on sagging revenues and soaring expenses that has the state facing
a projected revenue shortfall of approximately $900 million over
the next two fiscal years starting July 1. That's on top of an
approximately $434 million shortfall in the current fiscal year.
Gov. Steve Beshear proposed an approximately $18.7 billion
budget proposal that called for 12 percent cuts to various state
agencies, government programs and public universities. Beshear has
called on lawmakers to increase revenue by raising the state's tax
on cigarettes by 70 cents a pack and approve a proposed
constitutional amendment to legalize casino gambling.
House lawmakers, seeking to close the gap, approved a nearly $19
billion budget proposal that would increase the cigarette tax by a
quarter and raise various other taxes on services.
Inmates who receive their high school diplomas or graduate
equivalency diploma, or other educational or drug treatment
programs, would receive up to 90 days of "good time credit,"
under the proposal.
Under the proposal, felons released from prison would finish
their sentences on home incarceration and some could be allowed to
work to pay their restitution or child support. The state's prison
commissioner would have the discretion to release inmates.
Senate lawmakers said their proposal called for no additional
money from taxes. However, the plan would collect about $110
million more from the Kentucky Lottery to offset cuts to higher
education, said Senate Majority Floor Leader Dan Kelly,
R-Springfield.
Public school teachers would receive smaller pay raises under
the Senate proposal. The proposal calls for 1 percent wage
increases in each of the next two fiscal years. A proposal approved
by House lawmakers earlier this month would provide raises of 1
percent in the first year of the budget and 3 percent in the
second.
The Senate plan would add up to 2 percent in pay raises for
teachers under a contingency spending plan that would be triggered
if the state revenues improved beyond the projections.
Kentucky Education Association President Sharron Oxendine said
she is hopeful the larger raises can be restored before lawmakers
give final approval to the budget.
"It's not just bad for teachers, it's bad for public
education," Oxendine said. "When you have school employees having
to go out and take second and third jobs to make ends meet, that's
a detriment to education."
Oxendine was also critical of a Senate promise to increase
teacher salaries later, if state revenues were to grow.
"You can't make ends meet on a promise," she said.
Borders said Senate lawmakers did not feel raising taxes was
appropriate given the state's current fiscal condition. Still,
Borders said lawmakers were expecting state revenues would exceed
current official projections.
"Increasing taxes was not a priority because we considered with
the economy being what it is - and some fear of where the economy
is headed - that we should tighten our budgets as much as we expect
folks back home have to do the same thing," Borders said.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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