Coming Down to the Wire: What Gets State Funding?

by John Gregory | 04/14/14 11:38 AM

While the legislature stood in recess last week, Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear used his veto pen to strike what he considers restrictive language from the state spending plan. Those actions highlighted the discussion on this weekend's edition of Comment on Kentucky.

The Lexington Herald-Leader's John Cheves said Beshear's vetoes to the budget were designed to give him more financial flexibility to run state government for the next two years without micromanaging from legislators. Among the areas where the governor seeks flexibility is letting community colleges pool funds for building projects on campuses around the state. In addition, the governor struck language that would have precluded tolls on the proposed Ohio River bridges.

Cheves said Beshear would continue to fight for funds to renovate Lexington's Rupp Arena. Senate Republicans are standing firm against the $65 million bonding proposal, especially given revenue shortfalls experienced by Louisville's YUM Center. At the same time Senate President Robert Stivers (R-Manchester) is reportedly uncomfortable with secrecy surrounding the University of Kentucky's financial obligations to the renovation.

Linda Blackford, also with the Herald-Leader, said Lexington Mayor Jim Gray is caught between legislators who want more details and UK officials who don't want to divulge them. She explained there’s also concern among some at the school who worry that funding for Rupp Arena could be held against UK when it comes time to request money for on-campus building projects in the future.

Money for Education and Development Districts
The state's universities will take a 1.5 percent cut in the current budget plan. Blackford said that would equate to about $4 million less for UK in this biennium - and the school has already lost some $55 million in state funding since 2008. She speculated that higher tuition will be used to make up the difference. Blackford said in-state tuition has gone up more than 100 percent since 2003, creating a significant hardship for many Kentucky students.

Blackford also reported on her recent examination of the Bluegrass Area Development District. The agency deploys millions of federal dollars for economic and workforce development projects, yet there are questions about accountability and how that money is actually spent.

Legislature Tackles Drug Issues
Mike Wynn of the Louisville Courier-Journal said several bills have been signed into law this session. Senate Bill 124 will allow UK and University of Louisville hospitals to prescribe cannabis oil to treat juvenile seizures. Wynn said although the product is derived from marijuana, the measure allowing cannabis oil is a far cry from legalizing medicinal marijuana in the commonwealth.

Meanwhile, a measure to address heroin abuse has stalled in the legislature. Senate Bill 5 would have provided treatment for heroin addicts and stiffened penalties for drug dealers. Wynn said the measure hit a snag in the state House after defense attorneys rallied lawmakers to oppose a provision that would charge drug dealers with homicide if a customer died from a heroin overdose.

Sexual Harassment Case
The Legislative Ethics Commission met this week to hear sexual harassment complaints against former Democratic Rep. John Arnold of Sturgis. John Cheves said the panel voted 4-1 in favor of finding Arnold guilty. However, Arnold escaped any sanctions because there must be at least five votes to actually levy penalties. The ethics commission is mandated to have nine members, but one seat has been vacant for more than a year, and three members did not attend the meeting where the complaint against Arnold was heard.

The plaintiffs in the case have asked for a retrial at a time when all members of the commission can be present. Meanwhile, Cheves said, a lawsuit against Arnold is pending in Franklin Circuit Court, and Linda Blackford said Gov. Beshear signed into law a measure requiring legislators to attend a sexual and workplace harassment training course at the beginning of each session.

Watch the full Comment on Kentucky program.