By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer
FORT MITCHELL - Northern Kentucky's largest business group has released a legislative agenda that could run counter to the priorities of many of the region's state lawmakers.
The Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce has unveiled a list of more than 30 topics it wants the Kentucky General Assembly to address during the 2004 legislative session that begins Jan. 7 in Frankfort.
With the state facing a potential budget deficit of up to $700 million, the chamber is calling for new ways to raise revenue. They include raising gasoline and cigarette taxes and allowing video slots and other electronic gambling at thoroughbred racetracks.
"We're at a point in this state where we need to generate more revenue," said Steve Stevens, the chamber's top statehouse lobbyist. "Government efficiency is needed in Frankfort, but that alone is probably not going to get us there."
Kentucky's gas tax is 16 cents a gallon, compared with 28 cents in Ohio, 23.2 cents in Indiana, 25.4 cents in West Virginia and 18.9 cents in Tennessee. An increase could generate more money for road construction and repair, which would foster economic development and business growth, the chamber said.
Kentucky's cigarette tax of 3.1 cents a pack is the second-lowest in the nation.
Some Northern Kentucky legislators back tax increases because of the budget deficit and to generate more revenue for education and road construction. Among them are state Rep. Jon Draud, R-Edgewood, who has filed legislation to raise the cigarette tax, and House Majority Caucus Chairman Jim Callahan, D-Wilder, who favors the gas-tax increase to pay for roadwork.
But most of the other 14 members of the Northern Kentucky legislative caucus oppose tax increases. Many have signed pledges not to raise taxes, though some would consider doing so if other state taxes were reduced at the same time.
"There's just not a lot of sentiment in Frankfort to raise taxes," state Sen. Jack Westwood, R-Crescent Springs, has said.
The chamber has also called for lawmakers to allow thoroughbred racetracks to offer casino-style gambling.
"Allowing Kentucky tracks to expand gaming options ... would provide increased tourism and needed revenues for important programs such as education and social programs that are currently threatened by budget cuts," the chamber says in a legislative agenda briefing guide.
The chamber is also calling for continuing Northern Kentucky's vehicle emissions testing. Suspending the auto testing program "could generate tighter emission controls on Northern Kentucky businesses" to meet requirements of the federal Clean Air Act, the chamber says.
But three Northern Kentucky Republican senators - Westwood, Damon Thayer of Georgetown and Senate President Pro Tem Richard Roeding of Lakeside Park - have filed legislation to do away with the program.
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