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FRANKFORT, Ky. (WDRB and AP) -- Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear says tax reform and expanded gambling could provide the revenue for increased spending on Kentucky public schools.
In his annual State of the Commonwealth speech Tuesday night, Beshear praised Kentucky schools, which were the first to meet federal common core standards for student performance.
He also noted 140 school districts have raised the dropout age to 18 within the last year.
Beshear said that schools have stretched every dollar as far as they can, and now they're out of options.
The governor said that he's determined to find money to reinvest in education, even if he has to make "harmful cuts" to other, unspecified government programs to do so.
Beshear says if the state continues to cut or freeze education funding, schools face the prospect of laying off teachers, increasing class sizes and falling behind in technology. The Department of Education has asked lawmakers for an additional $336 million to restore funding to pre-recession levels.
Beshear's arguments for a constitutional amendment for expanded gambling were familiar from years past. He cited studies that show "hundreds of millions of dollars" in gambling revenue go to Kentucky border states "to fund roads and schools in Ohio, Indiana, West Virginia and other states."
Kentuckians "want to vote on the issue," Beshear said.
Reaction from one of the most vocal gambling opponents included a proclamation that expanded gambling is "effectively dead on arrival in this session."
The Family Foundation's Martin Cothran said "a politically volatile situation in the House" will make it difficult to deal with any controversial issues. "It would be political suicide for many members to vote on a measure that is going to make a lot of their constituents angry," Cothran said in a post-speech statement.
Beshear is renewing his push for revamping Kentucky's tax code and legalizing expanded gambling as ways to raise more revenue to meet the state's pressing needs after years of budget cuts.
Beshear said Kentucky can't continue making progress without meeting its needs in education, health care and human services.
Beshear told a joint session of the House and Senate that he will present a tax modernization proposal during the legislative session that started Tuesday. He says it will include a proposed constitutional amendment that would give Kentucky cities and counties the authority to impose a local sales tax.
Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer has lobbied for a local sales tax, as has Lexington Mayor Jim Gray, to pay for improvements in their respective cities.
Beshear said he'll propose a major health initiative that includes the goal of cutting Kentucky's smoking rate by 10 percent by 2018.
The governor told lawmakers that tobacco is the single-biggest factor hurting the state's health.
He said he'll again support a statewide smoking ban in public places. Beshear said many Kentuckians live in places with such bans, and says it's time to "fill in the map" and protect everyone.
Beshear is also pushing legislation to ban sales of e-cigarettes to minors.
Kentucky ranks among the worst nationally in almost every major health category. He said other goals in his proposal will be cutting obesity rates and reducing cancer deaths by increasing screening rates.
Beshear also floated the idea of "no-phone zones" where motorists wouldn't be allowed to talk on phones while driving. Beshear said that the idea deserves consideration, given the vulnerability of schoolchildren and construction workers.
Beshear said it's time Kentucky aligns its booster seat regulations with more stringent federal recommendations.
He also said the state needs to extend domestic violence protections to unmarried couples. He notes that Kentucky's current protective order law doesn't apply to dating couples who do not live together. The issue could come before a state House Judiciary Committee as early as Wednesday.
WDRB's Bennett Haeberle reports on the speech and reactions on WDRB News starting Tuesday at 10 p.m.
Read the Governor's Beshear's speech as prepared here: http://1.usa.gov/1de5HmO
Copyright 2014 WDRB News and The Associated Press. All rights reserved.