Ky. Lawmakers Arrive For Start of Session

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Kentucky lawmakers arrived in Frankfort on
Tuesday before the noon start of the 2009 legislative session, where the top agenda item will be balancing a state budget suffering from revenue shortfalls.

Returning lawmakers from communities across Kentucky were hopeful they'd be able to agree on a financial fix before they adjourn in March.

"The challenges that we face don't lend themselves to any fast or easy or cheap solutions," said state Rep. John Will Stacy, D-West Liberty. "But I'm optimistic that if we can be persistent and work in an above board fashion that we can be successful."

Gov. Steve Beshear is proposing a series of measures to help the state through the financial crisis created by a faltering economy that produced less tax revenue for state coffers than had been projected. The Democratic governor has already cut more than $430 million from the $19 billion state budget and now faces an additional $456.1 million shortfall.

Both the state's Democratic-controlled House and Republican-controlled Senate have vowed to work with Beshear on solutions. Preliminary talks have gone well, Beshear said Monday.

Increasing the state's tobacco tax remains one of Beshear's primary proposals for easing the financial crunch. Beshear wants to boost the cigarette tax from 30 cents to $1 a pack and double taxes on other tobacco products, moves that he said could produce $81 million this fiscal year and an additional $144 million in the following two years.

The governor's proposals also include three-day unpaid furloughs for all state employees, a move that he said will allow the state to avoid widespread layoffs.

"We look forward to working with both the Senate and the House to resolve this serious budgetary challenge as quickly as possible," Beshear said.

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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