By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer
HIGHLAND HEIGHTS - Political scientist Dr. Michael Thomson said voters should approach today's Northern Kentucky gubernatorial debate as if they were shopping for a car.
"Buyer beware," said Thomson, chairman of the political science department at Northern Kentucky University, site of the 4 p.m. debate between Republican Ernie Fletcher and Democrat Ben Chandler.
The few hundred people expected to show up at Regents Hall will hear lots of promises, many of which the candidates will be hard-pressed to ever deliver because of Kentucky's projected $600 million deficit.
"I think you have to be skeptical in a year when money is going to be an issue and tough choices will have to be made about spending," Thomson said. "There is a temptation for candidates in a debate to promise what the voters want to hear, even though fiscally they do not have the capacity to deliver what they are promising."
During a private, invitation-only campaign forum last month at Toyota Motor Manufacturing North American headquarters in Erlanger, both candidates made plenty of promises.
An arena at NKU, improvements to Ky. 9 in Campbell County, state money for a portion of the Brent Spence Bridge rehabilitation and new interstate highway ramps in Newport were among the projects Fletcher and Chandler said they would work to fund if elected.
But neither offered details on how to pay for their promises.
Thomson said voters want to hear details at today's debate.
"People in Northern Kentucky want to get away from the standard stump speeches and get to specific issues about the region," he said. "Northern Kentucky generates a large amount of revenue, disproportionate to the amount of resources we receive from Frankfort. Voters want to hear how the candidates see Northern Kentucky and the future of Northern Kentucky in their plans for the state."
One revenue source Chandler wants to tap is legalized gambling. He has said he supports gaming and wants voters to decide the issue through a statewide constitutional amendment.
But much of that money would go to education under Chandler's plan. And Republicans point out that he has already promised a big chunk of highway money to eastern Kentucky and a nearly $500 million upgrade of the Bert T. Combs Mountain Parkway.
The Fletcher campaign says Chandler is making lots of promises without offering specifics.
"Ben Chandler talks about jobs, fighting drugs and working to address health care, but the truth is he's failed to adequately address these important issues for Kentuckians," said Fletcher campaign manager Daniel Groves.
But Fletcher has been vague on how to pay for any of his new programs, said Boone County Democratic chairman Howard Tankersley.
Fletcher has said repeatedly he is not for gambling "at this time" but would not stand in the way of a constitutional amendment going before the voters. He has also said he would find new money by making state government more efficient, cutting waste and creating jobs.
"Where's the leadership," Tankersley said. "Those are just vague ideas. Ben Chandler is willing to talk about raising new revenue and not just dismissing it out of hand. He has a plan. Fletcher's ideas are flawed because they haven't been developed."
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