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AARP leads rally against budget cuts

FRANKFORT — Several hundred elderly people rallied in Frankfort on Monday against further state budget cuts in programs for the aging while lawmakers held a host of meetings to discuss Kentucky's financial woes.

"No cuts, we vote" was the message AARP supporters sent to Gov. Steve Beshear and legislators at a rally in the Capitol's House chamber.

Their event came on the heels of Beshear's move last week to notify some state agencies to plan for 6 percent cuts to their current budgets to deal with an expected $161 million revenue shortfall this fiscal year. Exempted programs included Medicaid, higher education, the funding formula for schools, local jail support and state prison beds.

AARP plans to fight deeper funding cuts and continue seeking a reduction in the 20,000 people on waiting lists for services, said Nelda Barnett, state president of the non-profit organization that helps people 50 and older with their independence.

She said her group especially was concerned about the future of home- and community-based services such as Meals on Wheels, elder abuse prevention, senior citizen centers and personal attendants.

"In my 35 years of aging services, I've never heard a senior say they can't wait to move to a nursing home," Barnett, of Owensboro, said.

"There are no easy decisions when the state needs to cut its budget, but aging services and home- and community-based services can't take any more cuts."

AARP member Jeane Robertson of Bowling Green said more cuts would be heartbreaking.

She told Adam Edelen, Beshear's chief of staff, that the governor promised to be committed to aging services. Edelen told the crowd that the governor wants to work with the group to preserve the funding "and will do everything we can to maintain those commitments."

But he said the state will not get back to 2008 spending levels until 2012 or 2013.

He noted that Beshear has pushed for a higher cigarette tax and more revenue through expanded gambling.

The AARP does not take a position on taxes and gambling, Barnett said.

Legislators who spoke at the rally were sympathetic but did not make promises.

House budget chairman Rick Rand, D-Bedford, said the state legislature is not likely to raise taxes.

Rep. Jimmie Lee, D-Elizabethtown, said the challenges to the state in dealing with the budget problems will "be greater than any time in my lifetime."

Lawmakers also heard Monday from other concerned groups.

The state's criminal prosecutors spoke to a legislative budget subcommittee about their strained finances.

A parade of government leaders, including Attorney General Jack Conway, briefed legislators on the effect of additional budget cuts.

Conway warned of potential layoffs in his office, which already has seen personnel levels fall from 250 to a little more than 200. He said a 6 percent cut in funding also could eliminate grants to local prosecutors to help pay the wages of advocates who work with crime victims.