Kentucky's Options to Make Up Shortfall Unpopular As Kentucky lawmakers consider what to do about a projected $900-million budget shortfall over the next two years, most residents don't like the solutions they're hearing. Among them: steep cuts to higher education, a big hike in cigarette taxes and casino gambling.
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Kentucky's Options to Make Up Shortfall Unpopular

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Kentucky's Options to Make Up Shortfall Unpopular

Kentucky's Options to Make Up Shortfall Unpopular

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STEPHANIE SANDERS: I'm Stephanie Sanders in Louisville, Kentucky, where it's less ideology than dollars and cents. Here in Kentucky, the state faces a $900 million budget shortfall over the next two years. Higher education funding could be slashed, new road projects have been halted, and corrections officials might release non-violent criminals early to save money. Many other programs are on the chopping block, including Kentucky's homeless prevention pilot project.

Wade Jordahl runs the program in Louisville and stops by the apartments of a client.

Mr. WADE JORDAHL (Program Manager, Family & Children First's Homeless Prevention Services): There he is...

Mr. ALLAN TERRY(ph): Yeah. Yeah. Well, my dishwasher don't work.

SANDERS: Allan Terry has spent the last 26 years in and out of jail. And after his release last year, he needed some help finding a job and housing. That's where the pilot project comes in. Caseworkers help those leaving state prison, mental hospitals and foster homes get on their feet, so they don't end up on the streets or back in state care. And it's worked. So far, the state has saved nearly $2 million, but it costs $100,000 dollars a year for the homeless prevention project, and lawmakers may not pay for it this year as they look for other ways to fund the state budget.

One controversial proposal is casino gambling. Newly elected Governor Steve Beshear wants casino gambling, but lawmakers don't.

Governor STEVE BESHEAR (Democrat, Kentucky): It is obvious that expanded gaming in the Commonwealth of Kentucky will create a substantial amount of recurring revenue for Kentucky.

SANDERS: Governor Beshear has even called for a 70-cent increase in the cigarette tax, which is a bold move for a state that has the highest smoking rate and one of the lowest cigarette taxes in the country.

Senate President David Williams says his chamber doesn't like any of the proposals.

State Senator DAVID WILLIAMS (Republican, Kentucky): There doesn't seem to be a lot of sentiment or hardly any sentiment at all for tax increases.

SANDERS: And yet Kentuckians still face nearly a billion dollar shortfall, and elected leaders are still squabbling on how to address it with just a few days left in the legislative session.

For NPR News, I'm Stephanie Sanders in Louisville.

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