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Author of Finance Ruling Runs for Ky. Lieut. Gov.

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While voters in other states prepare to decide gubernatorial and other contests next week, candidates in Kentucky are already readying their campaigns for their state's November 1991 elections.

One of the six announced Democratic candidates for lieutenant governor there says that he will focus on improving education. But even if he is elected, it is unlikely that his efforts will ever match the impact he has already had on his state's schools.

The candidate is Ray Corns, who as a circuit-court judge in 1988 ruled that the state's system of school finance was unconstitutional because it allowed vast differences between poor and wealthy districts.

The state supreme court upheld Mr. Corns's ruling last year, and expanded it to include the entire system of education in the state.

In response, the legislature in April approved what is widely regarded as the most comprehensive statewide restructuring of education ever undertaken. (See Education Week, June 14, 1989, and April 4, 1990.)

While the office he is seeking is not historically a very powerful one, Mr. Corns says he hopes to use it to be a "people's school monitor" overseeing the vast enterprise he helped set in motion.

Mr. Corns, 56, says that among the reform law's educational changes that he hopes to aid are improved early-childhood education and better classroom technology that could "bring the world into the most remote classroom."

But what Mr. Corns does not want to do is tax Kentuckians as much as the law calls for. When he issued his landmark opinion, he recalls, he had data showing the need for an additional $400 million to $500 million to go toward education in a two-year period. That revenue could easily have been generated through the state lottery, economic growth, and "a very modest tax increase," he argues.

The candidate says the $1.3-billion tax increase approved by the legislature was "a grievous error" that went "well beyond what was required for the educational-reform act."

Indeed, Mr. Corns thinks the legislature is going to have to consider returning to taxpayers some of the benefits that were taken away, including the deductibility of federal income taxes on state returns.

Mr. Corns says he considered seeking the office now held by Gov. Wallace G. Wilkinson, who is ineligible for re-election. But he says that he chose to pursue the lower office because it is better to take things "one step at a time," and also because much of the gubernatorial campaign money had already been committed by the time he decided to run.

But he does not rule out eventually pursuing the state's top job. If he wins and does well as lieutenant governor, Mr. Corns says, "I certainly well could consider the other."

No stranger to elective office, Mr. Corns spent 15 years in such positions before throwing his hat in this ring. He was Franklin County commonwealth's attorney for eight years and resigned his Franklin Circuit Court judgeship after seven years this month.

Although a lieutenant governor's only constitutional duties are to preside over the Senate, cast tie-breaking votes, and act as governor when the chief executive is out of the state, Mr. Corns says the office "can be a lot more than that."

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