AP: Kentucky Discusses Budget, Gambling

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(Associated Press) - Lawmakers are scheduled to convene Tuesday for the start of a legislative session that will be overshadowed by a looming financial crisis and a continuing push to legalize casino-style gambling in Kentucky.

Kentucky faces a $1.5 billion shortfall over the next two years, and, with little sentiment for tax increases, pro-gambling forces are pushing the notion of putting video slot machines at horse tracks to generate revenue for state coffers.

Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear is calling for bipartisan cooperation to find solutions to the financial woes. He said he's open to all suggestions, except a broad tax increase that he fears might drive the state further into recession.

"The issues that confront this state right now are much greater than partisan politics," Beshear said. "These aren't Democratic issues or Republican issues. These are Kentucky issues."

A panel of Kentucky economists predicted in December that the state also will have to deal with an additional $100 million budget shortfall in the current fiscal year. That's in addition to some $800 million in cuts that have already been made to the current budget.

The ramifications are major for both recipients and providers of government services. Layoffs among the state's 34,000 employees remains one option for trimming costs.

Republican Senate President David Williams said he considers personnel cuts necessary to balance the budget. Beshear hasn't gone that far, but neither has he ruled out layoffs.

Beshear is holding out hope that Congress might approve another round of federal stimulus money to help Kentucky and other hard-hit states balance their budgets. Though the idea is being floated in Washington, it faces opposition and can't be counted on.

Bolstering revenue with tax increases doesn't appear to be an option, either. Both Beshear and Williams are resistant, and House Appropriations and Revenue Committee Chairman Rick Rand, D-Bedford, said it appears lawmakers are in no mood to raise revenues through tax hikes, either.

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