Incoming governors in Kentucky have always had to face a budget crisis, real or imagined…or just made-up for whatever reason. Budget bills are supposed to originate in the state House, but governors in Kentucky have always wielded inordinate power with the taxpayers' money. Governors are supposed to administer the laws passed by the Legislature, including the budgetary decrees, but they have – or take – great latitude in performing their duty. For their part, the House and Senate would just as soon not be held accountable anyway, since budget votes can alienate voters faster than a hawk attacking a June-bug.
Enter the new governor, Steve Beshear. He's been a party apparatchik (former attorney-general, lieutenant governor and all-around party hack) for decades. He knew last year that he would be under the gun for the finances, so he built his entire campaign on a promise to deliver casino-gambling to the state, the better to guarantee some $500 million per year as rake-off from the gross carried on the backs of the suckers and delivered to the slot-shots. An added feature – no worry about how to balance the budget, but just how to spend all that filthy lucre and get ready for the next election cycle.
Problem: Whenever and wherever "gaming" (euphemism for the slots, roulettes, cards and all the rest) rears its ugly head, even for discussion, larceny is its handmaiden. Flashback to the early 90s (BOPTrot), when some 21 or so Kentucky legislators and bureaucrats were convicted in an FBI sting operation of skullduggery vis-à-vis (guess what?) "irregularities" (euphemism for vote-buying or pay-offs) concerning the pony-establishment.
The state Republican Party, sniffing the "gaming" stink settling over the capitol concerning the tug-of-war in the Legislature between various parties and/or factions within parties, has just filed a complaint with the Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission against Speaker Richards and two other members of the House. The complaint relied heavily upon Louisville TV-reporter Mark Hebert's statements during the weekly Kentucky Educational Television Comment on Kentucky program a few days ago and is a part of the official complaint.
Hebert: "If you listen to the folks from the tracks, they're saying that they're being essentially held hostage by one faction in the House, folks who want them to pony up and commit X number of dollars for all the House races later on this fall. And, 'Hey if you give us the money, and you commit some money to all our candidates, that are Democrats, you know what? We'll back off this thing of uh, uh, you know, of requiring you to have local voters approve it, or we'll back off this thing of nine potential casinos but no guarantee that your tracks will get any. You know we'll make it a little more friendly to you.'" Listed in the complaint are the laws subject to possibly having been violated.
The tension, of course, has to do with special interests, especially those of the horse-racing community that has long suspected bad things happening to pari-mutuel betting if another far-more accessible method of throwing money away should become available. So…the governor's initial plan was unbelievably weighted by concessions to that crowd, such as a casino guaranteed at the seven main tracks (12 altogether), with the state's take 30% less from track-casinos than its take at stand-alone casinos run by other than the horsy set. Smell familiar?
The arguments are raging over just what can be stomached, and the plans have been changed and re-changed as the various parties to the battle stake out their "profit-areas." This, of course, brings on line the red flags that flew over BOPTrot. Hebert spoke of things relating to elections, especially money, but the average Joe Blow, when he remembers the "money under the table" stuff of BOPTrot, thinks of pay-offs and other such unrighteous things, especially since the lessons of the 90s are not too late for the learning currently, i.e., lawmakers making sure not to get caught. The FBI spent about a year-and-a-half stalking that other gang, which must have been made up of the not-too-bright.
When William Yung is added to the mix, the smell becomes keener. He's the "gaming guru" who poured a million big ones into the PAC that helped Beshear to the governor's chair. He contributed $10,000 to the inauguration festivities and bought $7 million worth of prime land across the Ohio River from Cincinnati to build (gasp) a casino, never mind that he's just been thrown out of his licensure for one in New Jersey. That's another thing about the "gaming" industry…sooner or later (mostly sooner) the bad apples take over and squirrel away the profits while introducing everything from call-girls to bodies in the river.
Will there be another BOPTrot? It all depends upon whether or not the potential sharpies are smart enough to hold off the "revenooers," the guys who are so endemic to Kentucky history, no matter what badge they wear. The Ethics Commission will deliver itself of a humongous ho-hum, but the point has been made. When one follows the money, one finds the end of the trail in high places sometimes.