Fulfilling a promise to make improving Kentucky’s education system a top priority, the Kentucky House put its support behind a two-year budget proposal on Thursday that represents both challenges and opportunities.
The challenges come from the long-term effects of a worldwide recession that began in 2008. In the last six years, state government has cut $1.6 billion and reduced its workforce to the smallest in a generation.
The opportunities come from the numerous ways we have found to continue moving the state forward in this environment. This experience can be seen throughout the House budget, which largely mirrors the plan Governor Beshear gave to the General Assembly in January.
Similar to his, we in the House recommend making small cuts in many areas so we can spend nearly $190 million in new money over the next two years for kindergarten through high school and another $60 million for textbooks, teacher training and school-safety programs. This is the first time since 2008 these programs have seen an increase, an achievement of which we’re enormously proud.
At the postsecondary level, we believe the time has come for a new wave of construction on the campuses of our universities and the Kentucky Community and Technical College System (KCTCS). There are more than 45 major projects altogether which will update the campuses of these world-class institutions.
For our youngest children, we would like to expand the preschool program so that it reaches more children whose families earn less than 150 percent of the federal poverty level.
We also voted for restoring more than $100 million in federal cuts to a childcare-assistance program, a move that will help more than 10,000 families with childcare while mom and dad work to keep food on the table.
Several thousand Kentuckians would benefit from an expansion of Meals on Wheels; more than 1,200 slots would be added to three programs that help those with intellectual disabilities; and hundreds of Kentuckians would continue to be served by early screening programs for several types of cancer.
The House budget includes raises for school and state employees, and there is adequate funding for state government’s retirement system, fulfilling the ongoing promise called for in last year’s far-reaching pension reform, which is designed to save billions of dollars in the years ahead.
Locally, the budget includes more than $1.56 million over the next two years for our county’s coal-severance projects; this is more than double what had been expected under the governor’s plan, but the House is taking this path because we think it is important to return more severance money to the counties where it is generated.
This money will go toward important programs like the senior citizens center and needed expenses for our fire departments, parks and veterans organizations.
The House budget also includes language that, if it becomes law, should make it possible to re-open Otter Creek Correctional Center. In this case, it could be converted into a nursing home for our elderly prisoners, which would save the state a significant amount of money and would let our prisons better focus on their core mission.
The road plan, meanwhile, will be voted on early this week. It moves forward the Minnie-to-Harold connector and the announced expansion of the Mountain Parkway. I’ll discuss that plan more next week.
For now, the next stage is to give the Senate an opportunity to make whatever budgetary changes it deems necessary. Afterward, other legislative leaders and I will sit down to work on a compromise that can pass both chambers.
The legislative session is now three-fourths complete, so the pace will pick up considerably as we head toward the end of the month.
If you would like to let me know your thoughts or concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact me. You can email me at Greg.Stumbo@lrc.ky.gov or leave a message for me or any legislator at 800-372-7181. For those with a hearing impairment, the number is 800-896-0305.