A Legislative Perspective on the Kentucky General Assembly with State Representative Rick Rand
FRANKFORT – When it comes to the state’s budget, the past six years can be summed up in four words: Do more with less.
There hasn’t been much choice, given that spending has been cut by $1.6 billion since 2008 and the state workforce is the smallest it has been since the 1970s. Some agencies have seen spending reduced by more than a third, while classroom funding for elementary and secondary education has been held steady for far too long.
Kentucky is not alone when it comes to budget cutbacks, of course, but we have been able to avoid some of the more drastic decisions other states have taken. At the same time, reforms in such areas as the criminal justice system have shown that, with the right data-driven approach, we truly can do more with less.
All of this experience helped immensely in writing the two-year budget that the Kentucky House voted for last Thursday.
The budget does not contain all that we would like – even with moderate growth, some cuts are still necessary – but it does move Kentucky forward in key ways.
That can be seen in the greater focus we have put on education. We recommend spending 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.
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.
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 parents in 10,000 families continue working.
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.
These are just some of the highlights of the budget, which will now be reviewed and revised by the state Senate. By the end of the month, leaders from both chambers will look for a compromise that a majority of legislators can support. Once signed into law, the two-year budget will take effect July 1st.
The budget may have been the dominant news last week, but the House voted for several other bills that are prominent as well. Some of those have ties to the medical profession.
House Bill 310, for example, would keep those under the age of 18 from using a tanning bed unless they have a prescription from a doctor. About a half-dozen states have already taken this step.
House Bill 123 would have the Department of Public Health provide information on its website related to the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer and have doctors give this information to patients beginning treatment for this disease.
House Bill 157, meanwhile, is poised to become law. It calls for continued-education training requirements for certain groups of doctors to include information on better recognizing head trauma in young children. This would be primarily for pediatricians, family practitioners, radiologists and emergency and urgent care doctors.
Two other bills passing the House last week would boost economic development for the state. House Bill 483 would help AK Steel make needed upgrades in Ashland, while House Bill 396 will help GE as it prepares to invest several hundred million dollars in its Louisville operations.
The legislative session is now three-fourths complete, so the pace will pick up considerably as we head toward the end of the month and the House and Senate look for resolution on dozens of issues.
If you would like to let me know your thoughts or concerns about any of these bills, please don’t hesitate to contact me. My address is Room 366B, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, KY 40601; or you can email me at Rick.Rand@lrc.ky.gov.
To leave a message for me or for any legislator by phone, please call 800-372-7181. For those with a hearing impairment, the number is 800-896-0305.
I hope to hear from you soon.