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Beshear fields money questions

OWENSBORO — Money, whether it is coming into state coffers, flowing into a gas tank or being paid for health insurance premiums, was at the center of the discussion headed by Gov. Steve Beshear on Monday night at Apollo High School.

As part of his ”Beshear About Kentucky“ series of town hall meetings, the governor took questions about education funding, casino gambling as a state revenue source and taxes from the audience of more than 300.

Beshear offered little hope for funding in the next year for the second phase of the advanced technology center at Owensboro Community & Technical College, which was in his budget proposal but did not make it into the final spending plan approved by the legislature. It will be funded only if there is a state revenue surplus in July, which the governor said is unlikely.

Beshear did make a pledge to secure funding for the project in the future. ”We're going to build phase two of that advanced technology center before I get out of this office,“ he promised.

Beshear again said expanded gambling and an increase in the cigarette tax — two proposals that failed in the legislature this spring — have the most potential to boost state revenues.

The pitch for bringing casinos to Kentucky prompted Realtor Bill Barron to speak out against gambling, saying it would shift assets from families to casino owners while preying on the most vulnerable and leading to government corruption.

”I would just appeal to you and to our legislators to look for other sources that won't cause people to be losers all across the state,“ said Barron, whose comments generated applause.

Beshear said he respected Barron's opinion but disagreed with some of his predictions. Beshear also appealed to the public.

”If you don't agree with this particular source, let's find some other source,“ he said. ”We need to hear from the people what they're willing to do.“

Beshear said he hadn't decided whether he would reconvene the legislature for a special session to deal with a new revenue measure before the end of the year.

At another stop in Owensboro, Beshear announced the launch of a new state program designed to help Kentuckians who are on the brink of losing their homes.

The Kentucky Homeownership Protection Center will create a statewide counseling and information network for homeowners.

”This is a scary time for homeowners across the country,“ Beshear said.

The center was created by House Bill 522, sponsored by Rep. Tommy Thompson, D-Owensboro. It creates a network of counselors and agencies available to home­owners facing foreclosure or falling behind on house payments.