Day 10: Governor Urges Lawmakers to Lead, Not Cower

by Renee Shaw | 01/22/14 12:50 PM

Determined to make good on his vow to reinvest in education, Gov. Steve Beshear presented legislators yesterday with a two-year budget proposal that boosts early childhood and K-12 public education to historic levels, while cutting other services by 5 percent.

The governor retraced the financial plight the state has endured since the economic meltdown, which forced budget adjustments more than a dozen times in the last seven years. Those cuts reduced spending by $1.6 billion and chiseled the state workforce to its smallest size in four decades.

Under his new plan, many agencies will face a 5 percent budget cut; state police and universities will see a 2.5 percent budget reduction. In addition to lifting K-12 funding to its highest level ever, the governor wants to restore funding for teacher training, textbooks, and school safety as well as broaden preschool services to 5,000 more children.

The governor's plan also includes $50 million for technology and school equipment upgrades and $100 million for facilities construction projects to replace aging schools, all funded through bonds.

A Mixed Bag for Higher Education
Beshear’s plan cuts operating funds for the state’s universities and community college system, but does provide money for construction projects at campuses across the Commonwealth.

Using multi-county coal severance dollars, the governor's budget plan sets aside $2 million each year for the Coal County College Completion Program, which will fund scholarships for more than 500 local students.

In the area of economic development, Beshear wants to finance downtown convention center projects in Louisville and Lexington with general-fund supported bonds. His plan calls for modernizing the Mountain Parkway from Winchester to Pikeville, and for building a superhighway of another sort: He recommends $60 million in bonds to provide high-speed broadband capability statewide.

Child Care Funding Restored
Child advocates were likely jubilant over the governor's plan to reverse cuts made to the Child Care Assistance Program that allowed many low-income parents to remain in the workforce and receive a subsidy to pay child-care costs. Restoration of that money will support more than 10,000 Kentucky families in the first year.

Beshear's plan fully funds the actuarially recommended contribution for the Kentucky Retirement System to the tune of more than $100 million each year of the biennium. He also proposes a sliding scale of pay raises for state workers of up to 5 percent, with lower-wage earners getting a bigger boost than higher-earning ones the first year, and a 1 percent across-the-board increase in fiscal year 2016.

The governor issued another appeal for letting Kentucky voters decide whether to approve expanded gaming, and he said he will soon present a tax reform plan.

The Reaction
After the nearly 50-minute speech, House Speaker Greg Stumbo (D-Prestonsburg) and Senate President Pro Tem Katie Stine (R-Southgate) offered their reactions to the governor's proposals. Stumbo trumpeted Beshear's budget plan as the best he'd seen in his 30-year legislative career.

(Click to watch the governor’s entire budget address.)

Tune in Legislative Update tonight at 11 p.m. on KET for a review of today's committee and chamber activities, and follow me on Twitter @ReneeKET for updates throughout the day.