Politics & Government

Beshear wants gambling amendment approved in upcoming session


FRANKFORT — Gov. Steve Beshear said Wednesday that he would like to see a constitutional amendment to expand gambling passed in the January legislative session, but he said the fate of a plan to reform the state's tax code is up in the air.

"I don't think it's any secret that expanded gaming is one of the issues that I think should be addressed by the people of this state," Beshear said during a news conference about an unrelated topic at the state Capitol. "And I am hopeful that we may be able to get a constitutional amendment passed in the upcoming session."

Beshear has pushed for the expansion of gambling since he was elected governor in 2007. The measure has been stymied in the Republican-controlled state Senate. Last year, the Senate voted down a constitutional amendment to allow for the expansion of gambling at the state's horse tracks. If the constitutional amendment is passed by both chambers, it will have to be approved by Kentucky voters.

One of the strongest opponents of gambling will not be there in January.

Beshear appointed Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, to an open circuit court seat in his Southern Kentucky district last week.

After Beshear appointed Williams to the bench, Williams said that he isn't the only foe of the expansion of gambling, noting that the measure was voted down by the full Senate. His departure from the Senate doesn't mean that gambling will pass, Williams said.

On Thursday, Senate Republicans will elect a temporary head of the caucus to act as co-chairman of the Legislative Research Commission, the administrative arm of the legislature. The caucus will elect a president at a retreat in mid-December. Senate Majority Leader Robert Stivers, a Republican from Manchester and number two in Senate leadership, has said he will seek the Senate's top spot.

Beshear said Wednesday that he will not meddle with the Republican leadership election and that it's too early to speculate on how that election will affect the fate of expanded gambling, a measure that the horse industry has pushed for more than a decade.

"We don't know yet who may fill the leadership positions in the Republican majority in the Senate," Beshear said. "I do look forward to establishing a good working relationship with whoever fills those positions."

A blue-ribbon task force looking at overhauling the state's tax code is mulling a proposal to bring to the legislature. Its next meeting is set for Nov. 8. The deadline for that task force to deliver its recommendations is Nov. 15.

Beshear said Wednesday that he is willing to give the task force more time but that he wants a proposal before January. A special legislative session to address tax reform before the January session is unlikely, he said.

"We need the recommendation by the end of the year," Beshear said. "If they need a little more time to finish their work, all they have to do is ask."

Beshear did not rule out tackling tax reform in January but said there are many hurdles to climb.

"Once I get the recommendations of the task force, I'm going to be sitting down with the leadership of the House and Senate and start the more difficult conversations that always surround the issues of taxes and see if there is some common ground that we can find," Beshear said. "Until I do that, we won't know about what our pathway may be. Obviously, having a short session and having a requirement of a supermajority will make it more difficult to address a complicated and controversial issue like tax reform."

To either raise revenue or appropriate funds, the legislature needs a supermajority to pass a bill in odd-numbered years, when there is a 30-day or short session. In even-numbered years, the legislature needs only a majority to address taxing and revenue issues.

Lt. Gov. Jerry Abramson, who is chairing the tax-reform task force, said the group will decide after the Nov. 8 meeting whether it will need an extension. The task force already has axed some proposals — including taxing groceries — but it has more than 60 proposals to vote either up or down on Nov. 8.

"It's not off the table," Abramson said of addressing tax reform in the upcoming session. "But there's a lot of work that needs to be done."