A Legislative Perspective on the Kentucky General Assembly with State Representative Rick Rand
FRANKFORT – When House and Senate leaders first sat down early last week in budget negotiations, most of the major issues had already been decided.
Each chamber, for example, supported Governor Beshear’s decision to cut most state agencies by more than eight percent next fiscal year to balance the books and then maintain that level of spending in the following year. Both the House and Senate feel it is important to live within our means, and to rely as little as possible on one-time funding sources to cover recurring expenses.
Both chambers also agreed that certain areas of state government deserve more protection. That means no cuts for classroom funding, college aid, veteran services and Medicaid, and smaller cuts in postsecondary education and the Kentucky State Police. Some areas, such as our over-worked social workers, will actually see funding increases, while our plan to strengthen public pensions maintains the timeline set out in 2008.
There were some fundamental differences to overcome, but legislative leaders were able to reach common ground in these areas after several long days of work.
From the beginning, the House’s position stressed the importance of investing in jobs and improvements for the Commonwealth. That includes continuing to offer assistance to school districts needing to build new facilities or renovate current ones and investing in the high-tech jobs of tomorrow. Both of these initiatives have been in place for years and have a proven track record, and, fortunately, both will continue.
Another initiative that began in the House – a scholarship program designed to boost four-year college degrees in Eastern Kentucky – laid the groundwork to expand its scope in the final version of the budget approved on Friday. Now, this program will include all coal-producing counties no matter where they are, and it will be funded with coal severance dollars set aside for projects benefiting more than one county.
To qualify, students have to meet several criteria: they have to be from a coal-producing county and have at least 60 college credit hours, and they must attend a postsecondary school in a coal-producing county that offers a four-year college degree. As long as money is available, the grants will range from $2,000 if attending a public postsecondary school to $6,000 for a private school. If a desired degree program is not available in the region, students can use the grant money elsewhere in the state.
Overall, the state’s two-year budget tops $19 billion, and it is the leanest budget most of us have seen in our lifetimes. Over the last several years, we have made cuts totaling $1.3 billion with only modest growth in revenue, so there is no fat left to cut.
Still, we are in better shape than many states. There are no lay-offs or furloughs in this budget, and no tax increases. If the better-than-projected growth in state revenues we have seen in recent months continues, the worst may truly be behind us.
In addition to the budget, the General Assembly also has passed several other noteworthy laws this legislative session and is poised to make a strong statement on limiting drug abuse.
I will cover these issues more in next week’s column. For now, please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any concerns involving state government. My address is Room 366B, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, KY 40601.
You can also leave a message for me or for any legislator at 800-372-7181. For those with a hearing impairment, the number is 800-896-0305.
I hope to hear from you soon.