Kentucky Senate Approves Two-Year State Spending Plan

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 programs.

The plan would allow for the release of nonviolent and
non-sexual felony offenders, while some could be released early for
completing certain programs while still in prison. State government
could save up to nearly $50 million over the next two fiscal years
under the plan, 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 forever and without treatment."

The Senate approved the measure Monday on a 36-2 vote, sending
it back to the House for consideration. House lawmakers
subsequently voted not to agree with the Senate changes, a move
that sets the stage for budget negotiations between the two
chambers later this week.

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.

Under the Senate proposal, inmates who receive their high school
diplomas or graduate equivalency diploma, or other educational or
drug treatment programs, could receive up to 90 days of "good time
credit" while in prison.

Kelly said some of people who could be released include those
convicted of writing bad checks or failing to pay child support.
The state's prison commissioner would have the discretion to
release inmates.

Kentucky has more than 22,000 inmates.

Beshear has said Kentucky needs to reconsider some punishments
for people convicted of nonviolent crimes to reduce its inmate
population. Beshear has noted that while the state's crime rate has
increased by 3 percent over 30 years, the inmate population has
spiked by 600 percent.

"We're going to need to look and see if it's realistic under
our current circumstances to project that we will be releasing
2,000 inmates and saving a bunch of money because of that,"
Beshear said.

Senate lawmakers said their proposal, among other things, 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.

Borders said Senate lawmakers did not feel raising taxes was
appropriate. 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.

Currently, lottery revenue helps fund college grant, scholarship
and literacy programs, lottery spokesman Chip Polston said in an
e-mail. Since 1998, the lottery has contributed more than $950
million toward college grants and scholarships and last year turned
over about 26.4 percent of its sales, about $196 million, Polston
said.

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 state revenues improved beyond current 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.

"You can't make ends meet on a promise," she said.

Among other things, the proposal would fund less money for
higher education than the House plan but more than Beshear
proposed. The governor's proposal would slash funding for public
universities by about 12 percent. The Senate plan would restore
about 9 percent of Beshear's proposed cuts, compared to the House
version which calls for restoring them fully.

Sen. Ernesto Scorsone, D-Lexington, called the budget proposal
"cruel and callous." Scorsone was one of two senators who voted
against the measure.

"I cannot compliment the cutting and slashing that is part of
this budget," Scorsone said. "The House did not meet all the
unmet needs of the commonwealth, but this budget unfortunately
doesn't even get as close as the House does."


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