FRANKFORT — After a Tea Party rally in the Capitol Rotunda to curb government debt, the Senate approved a bill Wednesday to set a limit on state debt.
The bill, sponsored by Republican Sen. Joe Bowen of Owensboro, would limit total debt payments to 6 percent of General Fund spending.
The Senate State and Local Government Committee approved the measure earlier Wednesday, voting 8-1. Committee chairman Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, said its designation as Senate Bill 1 showed it was a priority for the Republican-controlled Senate.
The proposal is an effort to rein in the state's debt, said Bowen, who said debt payments now make up about 6.3 percent of the General Fund and total debt exceeds $6 billion.
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"We are acquiring more debt than we are retiring," he said.
Bowen initially presented the measure as a constitutional amendment but changed it to a statute, or state law.
Thayer said it was more acceptable to legislators as a statute.
The Senate vote on the measure was 34-2. The only "no" votes were cast by Sens. Walter Blevins of Morehead and Perry Clark of Louisville, both Democrats. Blevins said the measure could hamper job creation by limiting debt.
Sen. Kathy Stein, D-Lexington, said the measure also should apply to the state's Road Fund, which pays for roads. The General Fund pays for most state programs.
Speakers at the rally voiced support for the bill. They included several candidates in this year's races for Congress, including Republican Andy Barr of Lexington, who is running in Central Kentucky's 6th Congressional District.
"We have been beating the drums for debt reduction for years, and we now appear to have nearly everyone's attention," Republican activist David Adams said.
Leland Conway, a Lexington conservative radio host, said no one could have freedom "if you don't have economic freedom."
He said only one neighboring state has a higher debt liability than Kentucky: Illinois.
"And we all know what we got from Illinois," he said in an apparent reference to President Barack Obama.