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House Speaker Ponders Cig Tax Hike To Aid Schools

FRANKFORT, Ky. -- House Speaker Jody Richards said yesterday that he would consider backing an increase in the state cigarette tax if it's needed to prevent cuts in education funding, reports the Louisville Courier-Journal in its Saturday edition.

"I don't think the cigarette tax increase is the worst thing that ever came down the pike," the Bowling Green Democrat told reporters after yesterday's House session.

Gov. Steve Beshear recently announced a plan to partly address a budget shortfall of nearly $300 million this year, including a 3 percent funding cut to state universities, the newspaper reports.

And a projected shortage of more than $500 million in the next fiscal year has prompted Beshear to warn of cuts of as much 12 percent to universities and state agencies and 7 percent to public schools in 2008-09, reports the C-J.

The governor has blamed a downturn in the national economy, lagging employment in Kentucky, high gas prices and a slump in the housing industry for the revenue shortfall.

Richards said he sympathizes with Beshear because of the budget outlook he inherited.

"I think the governor is doing the very best job he can do," Richards said. "He has been given a terrible hand to play."

But the speaker said he wants to avoid cuts to schools and any further cuts to higher education, reports the Courier-Journal.

"I really don't know how you can cut 12 percent. Now that would be devastating," he said.

On Thursday health advocates noted that Kentucky has the highest rates of smoking and lung cancer among the states and called for an increase of 75 cents a pack in Kentucky's 30-cent-a-pack cigarette tax.

Richards said he agreed with Senate Democratic Leader Ed Worley of Richmond, who said he preferred to consider a cigarette tax increase before cutting education funding, reports the newspaper, reports the Courier-Journal.

"Yes I do," Richards said. "… I don't know where we will go with it, but I think there are several of us in the House that would be very interested in looking at the cigarette tax."

He said he had no idea how much the tax should or could be raised. But he said the fate of the measure would depend largely on the level of education funding in the budget Beshear will propose Jan. 29.

Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, said later that he sees little sentiment for any increase in the cigarette tax.

And Beshear's spokeswoman Vicki Glass said Beshear believes Kentuckians are taxed enough and remains opposed to a tax increase of any kind, reports the Louisville Courier-Journal.

Copyright: The Louisville Courier-Journal
http://www.courier-journal.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080112/NEWS0101/801120405/1008/NEWS01


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