It’s finally official: the commonwealth has a budget for the coming two fiscal years, although it’s not quite the same as what legislators passed in mid-April.
The journalists on Comment on Kentucky reviewed the vetoes Gov. Matt Bevin made to the state spending plan, and how those will affect public education.
Vetoes Affect State Spending
Gov. Bevin vetoed all or parts of seven bills from the recently completed General Assembly session, according to Tom Loftus of the Louisville Courier-Journal. That count includes dozens of line items in the state budget that are detailed in House Bill 303. Loftus says Bevin’s vetoes include $800,000 for Louisville’s Waterfront Park and $400,000 in funding for a social service agency that assists the developmentally disabled, as well as money for screenings for colorectal, breast, and cervical cancers.
The governor also vetoed $7.5 million for indigent care at the University of Louisville Hospital. Loftus says Bevin indicates that funding should be unnecessary given the health insurance coverage available through the Affordable Care Act and the expansion of Medicaid. But Loftus says hospital officials contend indigent care funds are needed to treat patients who still don’t have any insurance.
Scott Wartman of Kentucky Enquirer says the budget includes money to repaint the Brent Spence Bridge and to conduct a study on how to improve traffic flow on the I-75 span to Cincinnati. He says northern Kentuckians are disappointed that the spending plan doesn’t include more money to fight the heroin epidemic that’s rampant in the region. But he says local judges and addiction counselors are relieved that money for the judicial branch was restored so that drug courts can continue to operate.
Education Also Impacted
Bevin also vetoed the legislation to create the Work Ready Kentucky Scholarship Program and he cut the line item to fund the program in the first year of the biennium. The Democratic-sponsored initiative would help make tuitions for an associate degree at Kentucky colleges and universities free for qualifying high school graduates.
Loftus says the governor presumably wants to rewrite the rules for the program in the 2017 General Assembly when Republicans hope to control of both chambers of the legislature. Until then, Loftus says parents of students who hoped to benefit from the program this fall may still be angry about the veto when they go to the polls in November.
The governor upheld a 4.5 percent reduction in higher education moneys that existed in the final House-Senate compromise budget. Linda Blackford of the Lexington Herald-Leader says that while many states have returned to increasing support for public colleges and universities after the recession, the commonwealth continues to decrease its funding. As an example, Blackford says Eastern Kentucky University got about half of its funding from the state in 2007. Now, it’s down to 28 percent. She says dwindling state support has forced the institutions to get more creative with their finances and to raise tuitions and student fees.
EKU as well as Northern and Western Kentucky Universities and the Kentucky Community and Technical College System have already announced tuition hikes for the fall semester. But even if all eight public institutions increase their tuitions by the maximum amount allowed by the Council on Postsecondary Education (CPE), Blackford says the schools will still face a combined $64 million shortfall due to increased operating costs.
The universities will also begin a transition to performance-based funding. Starting in 2017, 5 percent of state funding to public colleges and universities will be dependent on outcomes such as graduation and retention rates. Blackford says the CPE has until the end of this year to set the criteria by which the schools will be measured.
Finally, Blackford says Bevin’s actions will reduce the amount of Kentucky Lottery proceeds that will go to need-based college scholarships. And Tom Loftus says the governor vetoed $250,000 in aid to needy law school students.
Gubernatorial Feud Intensifies
Almost two weeks ago, Gov. Bevin announced plans to launch an investigation into alleged corruption that took place in the administration of former Gov. Steve Beshear. Bevin accused Beshear of questionable practices in awarding state contracts and coercing state employees to contribute to Democratic political candidates.
Last week, Beshear held his own press conference at a Frankfort hotel in which the Democrat rebutted Bevin’s allegations and called the Republican a “bully.” Beshear claims Bevin threatened legislators and university presidents and sought contributions from state contractors to pay off the personal debts to his gubernatorial campaign.
Loftus says the feud between the two governors, which started during the transition between administrations last year, will likely continue for a while. He says Bevin stands by his statements against Beshear, while Beshear says Bevin may be facing an FBI investigation.
Meanwhile state Attorney General Andy Beshear, who is the son of Steve Beshear, wants the Executive Branch Ethics Commission to investigate Bevin’s allegations. Loftus says the governor wants the Finance Cabinet to conduct the investigation, but Beshear contends that agency doesn’t have the proper jurisdiction.
The opinions expressed on Comment on Kentucky and in this program synopsis are the responsibility of the participants and do not necessarily reflect those of KET.