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Budget cuts to spare little



FRANKFORT

A leading House budget writer said this week that nothing is safe from possible cuts as Kentucky lawmakers try to plug a massive shortfall in the state’s next budget.

Funding for elementary and secondary public schools would likely be the “very last place” lawmakers would look for cutbacks in the state’s next two-year budget, House Appropriations and Revenue Committee Chairman Rick Rand told reporters.

“But if nothing changes — no new revenue, no economic growth — it would be hard to imagine how we get through the second year without taking a look at that,” he said.

Lawmakers are struggling to put together a budget because the general fund has been depleted by the recession.

Rand said top House budget writers are still considering several options that could be presented to rank-and-file House members Wednesday. He declined to specify, but said any new revenue to prop up the budget appears to “be off the table. That’s safe to say.”

Asked about possible budget cuts, Rand said, “I would say at this point that everything’s on the table. We’re going to consider everything.”

Cuts for the first year of the next budget should be minimal, Rand said.

“But when we get to the second year is where we really have diffi culty and where we have a lot of tough choices to make,” he said.

Federal stimulus money also is expected to run out in the budget’s second year, further complicating matters. Lawmakers are making contingency plans in case another round of stimulus money never arrives.

Rand said there would likely be public support for some further belt-tightening by state government. However, some people may be more open-minded when they see how deep some cuts may be, he said.

“I think as we go forward and they see the type of cuts … it could change their mind on some of them,” he said.

Revamping Kentucky’s tax system has been mentioned by some lawmakers as a possibility to help deal with the budget woes. A small group of lawmakers is working on a plan that could make sweeping changes to the tax code.

Gov. Steve Beshear has urged lawmakers to legalize video slot machines at race tracks, and the budget he presented to lawmakers last month assumed $780 million in gaming revenue.

The gaming proposal has appeared to be a nonstarter with lawmakers this session.

Beshear met with House Democratic leaders in his office Monday evening to talk about the budget. Afterward, the governor told reporters that every option deserves to be considered, signaling he hasn’t given up on the proposal. But Beshear acknowledged it will be difficult to pass this session.


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