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Beshear Pushes Gambling In Speech To State Lawmakers

By Associated Press

Frankfort, KY – Gov. Steve Beshear used his fifth state of the commonwealth speech Wednesday to again call on lawmakers to put a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot so Kentucky voters can decide whether to legalize casino-style gambling.

The second-term Democrat, speaking to a joint session of the House and Senate, said Kentucky is losing hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue to the neighboring states - Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia - that allow gambling.

He said that makes no sense at a time when state government's financial outlook is so dire and more budget cuts are projected.

"We will not be relying on new revenue to balance this budget," Beshear said. "The key to balancing this budget lies not on the revenue side, but on the spending side. We will be cutting a lot. We will, of course, continue to find efficiencies, but the numbers are so wretched that we will likely be forced to carve into some of our most critical, basic services. And it will hurt."

Beshear said legalizing casino-style gambling and imposing a tax on proceeds could generate needed money for education, public protection and transportation projects. The move could create needed revenue to bolster the state's struggling thoroughbred horse racing industry, he said.

Too many people, he said, are traveling to states along Kentucky's northern border to gamble.

"We might as well be backing trucks filled with cash up to the Ohio River and dumping that money into the water," Beshear said.

Expanding gambling isn't the ultimate answer to the state's financial woes, he said.

"It's a mechanism that will keep significant money in our state that we're now sending elsewhere, money we can use to protect and invest in our priorities, like education, job creation, and, yes, our horse industry," he said. "So tonight, I reiterate, it's time to let Kentuckians decide the future of gaming in our state."

Beshear said Kentucky is at a competitive disadvantage to other states that are using gambling revenue to boost purses and breeders' incentives to lure race horses, brood mares and stallions.

Past attempts to legalize more forms of gambling in Kentucky have failed.

"But I believe that if we all sit down and negotiate in good faith, if we avoid making public comments that box people in or draw lines in the sand, and if we keep uppermost in our minds that the people of Kentucky have repeatedly made clear that they want to vote on this issue, then we can come up with language that can pass both chambers without amendments," Beshear said.

Beshear also called for reforming Kentucky's tax code in "a strategic and non-partisan way" that will allow Kentucky to better compete with other state's economically. He promised that all options will be considered and all voices heard in creating a tax sysem that meets the state's future needs.

"Both of these steps, expanded gaming and tax reform, are within our power to do," he said. "Both will take political courage and will."

The governor said creating jobs will continue to be top priority.

"While too many Kentuckians remain out of work, unemployment rates are edging downward, and they're now the lowest in almost three years," he said.

Beshear ended his speech with an appeal to put politics aside for the good of Kentucky.

"The issues - from attacking prescription drug abuse to keeping our kids in school, from improving our workforce and protecting our children to keeping Kentucky tax money here at home by passing expanded gaming - require us to collaborate," he said. "The lure of partisanship is strong. Having just finished a long political campaign, I personally know that to be the case. But election season is over. Now it's time to govern."