With such experienced leadership in the Senate, we hope to accomplish a great deal in the short amount of time available to us this year. One bill already on the floor and ready for a vote is Senate Bill 4, which represents a smarter approach in the war on drugs. SB 4 would create an intensive drug treatment program to help make sure potential felons can recover from their addictions even before they're convicted for their first offense. The earlier we treat the problem, the easier it will be to end the cycle of drug addiction and crime.
One immediate benefit of that would be to reduce our exploding prison costs. We spend eight times more on corrections now than in 1970, even accounting for inflation. One reason is we have 65 percent more prisoners, many of them because of drug violations. We can't continue down that path and adequately fund other crucial services at the same time.
Another issue we tackled last week was the increasing need for students to be ready for college and the working world, particularly in math and related fields. Senate Joint Resolution 19, which passed the Education Committee this week, directs the state Department of Education to revise the state's core content standards for math. We want to ensure students focus on critical basic skills rather than an overly broad set of goals that spread teachers too thin.
When we return to Frankfort on Feb. 3, much of our attention will be on state finances. The Consensus Forecasting Group tells us our revenues will be $456 million less than anticipated this fiscal year. That means we must tighten our belt above and beyond what we did last year. With a shortfall of that nature - about 5 percent of the annual budget - we must search across the board for savings. The governor has announced his recommendations, and we'll consider his proposals along with our own as we look for a long-term solution to this chronic problem.
Of course, many items we'll be looking at this session will affect state spending. One such issue will be a comprehensive review of the state's criminal code, including drug laws. Laws that made sense in the 1970s, when we last considered such an overhaul, may not be the best way to fight crime today. We hope this review and revision will produce a justice system that makes more sense and spends tax money more efficiently.
We must also look at two other large cost-drivers of spending - Medicaid and education. Medicaid is a particular trouble spot because of its nature.
Just as the economy falters and less money is available for state spending, Medicaid rolls swell because people are losing their jobs. To protect this program into the future, we have to be prudent with how we manage it today.
Although we can't ignore the pressing needs of today, we must also make sure that tomorrow's infrastructure needs are met. Federal road aid is dwindling, but our roads need constant repairs and upgrades to keep our citizens and goods moving.
To cite one particular instance, we anticipate that the Base Realignment and Closure changes recommended for Fort Knox will mean thousands of new military and support jobs for that community and surrounding counties, and we must invest wisely in infrastructure there to both support and promote smart growth in the area.
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