Beshear pushes tax reform, gambling to protect state from cuts - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Beshear pushes tax reform, gambling to protect state from cuts

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FRANKFORT, Ky. (WDRB) -- Expressing the need for tax reform and expanded gambling to offset budget cuts, Gov. Steve Beshear also said history will show the politically unpopular Affordable Care Act is a good piece of legislation that will help better protect more than 600,000 uninsured Kentuckians.

Those were just some of the topics covered during a wide-ranging interview Beshear held with reporters Tuesday, as Kentucky's second-term governor discussed his legislative priorities for next year.

"Every single Kentuckian and every single American will have access to affordable health insurance for the first time. That's huge for this country and huge for this state," Beshear said during the interview.

Beshear pointed to the 85,000 people who've registered on the kynect website as proof Kentucky's health insurance exchange is working. Beshear knows it is in sharp contrast to the Affordable Care Act website, which has been lampooned by the national media for its failed rollout.

Beshear says 332,000 uninsured Kentuckians will eventually be covered by the state exchange. He added that the remaining 300,000 uninsured will be covered by the expansion of Medicaid.

The program was one of ten items Beshear touted as a success for his administration in 2013. But not everyone agrees.

"If you're going to make the rules, as legislator or as a governor, then live by the rule," said Rep. Robert Benvenuti, R - Lexington. 

Rep.Benvenuti filed a bill that would force Beshear, his cabinet and every lawmaker to drop their state-covered health insurance and swap it out for insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

"It's not sustainable," said Benvenuti, whose also a Lexington attorney.

But Beshear accused Benvenuti of simply playing politics.

"It's inaccurate to try to imply that somehow there is an inferior product out here under the Affordable Care Act. It's playing political games."

With the state facing a $200 to $300 million shortfall next year, Beshear says expanded casino-style gambling and tax reform will be needed to offset across-the-board cuts.

But some lawmakers point out that even if an expanded gambling bill passes, it would be late 2014 before voters could act on it, and years before the money would roll in. (Beshear claims gambling could bring in between $200 to $400 million to the state, but those projections are lower than estimates Beshear's administration put forth in previous years).

Beshear said gambling - coupled with tax reform - will be two key sources of revenue that will be needed in 2014 to offset across-the-board budget cuts.

"We're not making any pledges at this point because everything is on the table... I'm going to find someway to make some reinvestment in education," Beshear said.

Rep. Jim Wayne, D - Louisville, who sat on a task force for Beshear looking into tax reform, says the push inside the capitol could include increasing the sales tax on luxury services.

"Things are going to be slashed across the board this session unless we have new revenue," Rep. Wayne told WDRB News. "We need a system that is more fair. That means those that aren't paying their fair share need to start paying their fair share."

Beshear said tax reform won't equate to automatic tax hikes.

"It doesn't mean that we are going to run out and raise people's rates. It means we'll need to broaden our tax base."

Lawmakers we spoke to suggest Beshear will have to walk the hallways more, glad-handing key lawmakers if tax reform is to gain any traction. While Beshear is pushing tax reform and expanded gaming, it's unclear how much political will there is from leadership in either the Democratic-controlled House or the Republican-led Senate chamber.

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