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Toughest Week – Legislators Get Serious About Budget Shortfall

February 2, 2009

Frankfort, KY – Kentucky legislators get the tough job of balancing the state checkbook this week – and right now, the state checking account is in the red by 456 million dollars. Pre-session talk has focused on deep budget cuts that would reach into health care, education and road maintenance. Kentucky Youth Advocates executive director Terry Brooks says there's no doubt there are ways for state agencies to be more efficient, and some spending can be trimmed, but he says the problem is too big to simply believe that "budget cuts" are the only answer.

"We know that you simply can't carve 456 million dollars from the Commonwealth's budget without seriously hurting Kentucky's people and the very infrastructure of the state."

Brooks' position is that the state has long had what he calls a "structural deficit," meaning revenue wasn't enough to meet the budget, but that the good economic times brought in so much extra that the shortfall wasn't front-page news. And although raising taxes is never a popular idea, he says, there's plenty of proof that it benefits everyone in the long term.

"The research is very clear that, in the last recession, states that increased revenues were able to get out of the recession more quickly than states that simply cut spending."

The governor has proposed increasing the cigarette tax by 70 cents per pack, cutting state agency budgets and tapping into the state's "rainy day" fund, which Brooks says are good first steps; however, he notes, they're not enough to balance the budget. Another proposal expected to be considered would allow video slot machines at horse-racing tracks.

Deborah Smith/Deb Courson, Public News Service - KY