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Constitutional Amendment Would Cap State's Debt-to-Revenue Ratio

Sen. Joe Bowen -- photo by LRC Public Information

By Kenny Colston, Kentucky Public Radio

FRANKFORT, Ky. – A proposed constitutional amendment that would restrict how much debt the Commonwealth can carry took its first steps in Frankfort Wednesday.

The amendment is sponsored by state Sen. Joe Bowen, a Republican from Owensboro. It caps state spending to six percent of annual revenue. Currently, the state has spent 6.3% more than it has taken in. The measure passed the Senate State and Local Government committee today.

"This is a bold move, I can assure you the public will embrace," Bowen says. "And having said that ultimately the public will decide whether this is a good measure or not. Because it's going to be on the ballot. You know, we're not making this decision, the public is."

Bowen's bill has a companion in the House, but the House measure would cap spending at five percent of revenue. The bill is a favorite of Tea Party groups across the Commonwealth.

It excludes the road fund, the infrastructure authority and universities from the equation, because they rely almost exclusively on bonded debt.

As to why to cap spending at six percent, instead of a higher or lower number, co-sponsor Sen. Damon Thayer says six percent is generally where credit rating agencies like the state to stay under.

"The bond rating agencies use that number in the figure that they would like us not go over," Thayer says. "We being the General Assembly generally have tried to stay around that number. This of course would set that in the Constitution."

The bill must pass the Senate and House before landing on this fall's ballot.