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Budget crunch shrinks Ky. colonel certificates
Kentucky Colonels K 6548781
Angela Evans, an attorney in the Kentucky secretary of state's office, compares old and new, left, certificates awarded to honorary Kentucky colonels at the Capitol in Frankfort on Friday. - photo by Associated Press
    FRANKFORT, Ky. — Colonel Elvis Presley, Colonel Muhammad Ali and Colonel Pope John Paul II all received ornate certificates to accompany the honorary rank that Kentucky bestows on thousands of people each year, including some of the world’s most rich and famous.
    Now a budget crunch threatens to curtail the glories of those commissions that conjure up the image of a genteel Southerner.
    The certificates won’t be eliminated, but the state plans to scrap the hand-pasted gold seals and blue ribbons that adorn each one and reduce the size from 10 by 15 inches to 8 1/2 by 14 inches.
    To make up for the smaller size, the new certificates will be embossed with raised letters across the top with the state seal stamped in blue and gold at the bottom. Secretary of State Trey Grayson said the new certificate ‘‘looks better and costs less.’’
    The change will make about a $5,000 annual dent in a nearly $1 billion budget shortfall that is prompting the state to take drastic steps, including cutting about 3,400 state jobs.
    Gov. Steve Beshear has called for widespread cuts in government services.
    ‘‘When we were looking at processes we could improve to save money, this seemed like an obvious one,’’ said Grayson, whose office processes about 16,000 colonel commissions each year.
    The Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels, a philanthropic group, acknowledged that the state needs to cut costs.
    ‘‘Unfortunately, it’s one of those necessary evils. We certainly wish it wasn’t necessary,’’ said Glen Bastin, the order’s chief operating officer.
    Bastin said the order has offered to pay the $5,000 a year to keep the old certificates in print and that the state is looking at the possibility.
    The honor dates back to 1813 and is granted by the governor and secretary of state to ‘‘individuals in recognition of noteworthy accomplishments and outstanding service to a community, state or the nation.’’ Colonels are not required to perform specific duties but can join the non-profit, non-partisan Honorable Order established in 1932 to perform good works within Kentucky.
    Bastin said the certificates are prominently displayed in offices and dens from Wall Street to Pennsylvania Avenue. Famous colonels include a string of presidents such as George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Comedians ranging from Bob Hope to Jeff Foxworthy are on the list. So are singers Billy Ray Cyrus and Barry Manilow; golfer Tiger Woods; even retired Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf is a colonel.
    And it’s not an honor reserved only for men. Hollywood’s Mae West, Betty White, Phyllis Diller, Shirley Temple Black and Whoopi Goldberg are colonels, too. So are Carol Channing, Naomi Judd, Marie Osmond and thousands of others.
    The state has some 2,000 of the larger certificates in stock. The switch to the smaller ones takes effect once the larger ones are used up, probably in a matter of weeks, Grayson said.
    Gov. Beshear, who grants and signs the commissions, is OK with the change given the state’s financial woes, his spokesman, Dick Brown, said.
    ‘‘It’s something,’’ Brown said, ‘‘that we have to accept and deal with.’’
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