Governor Steve Beshear says his proposed budget is “inadequate to meet Kentucky’s needs.” He outlined his two year, 19 and a half billion dollar spending plan during an address to a joint session of the Kentucky General Assembly Tuesday night.
He says the budget includes “difficult and painful cuts.” Even SEEK, the main funding source for K-12 schools, took a hit. Beshear proposed keeping the total general fund amount the same for the next biennium, which begins July 1.
"Maintaining funding is not a step forward,” Beshear said in his budget address. “It's not even running in place. Measured in per pupil funding this is a slip backward to 2008 levels."
The head of the state’s teachers’ union, Sharron Oxendine, says the funding is inadequate, but it could have been “a whole lost worse.” The Kentucky Education Association is pushing for lawmakers to find new revenue sources, including casino gambling.
Beshear used the tight budget to renew his call for a vote on expanded gambling.
"Future budgets do not have to look like this one,” said Beshear. “Future budgets, with additional revenue, could help us more aggressively attack the fundamental weaknesses that are holding Kentucky back."
The governor’s spending plan calls for a 4.5% cut to other K-12 education programs, 6.5% reduction for higher education, 8.4% for most state agencies and 2.2% for justice and public safety.
"So the day of reckoning has come because with this budget we begin to carve into some of our most critical services,” Beshear said. “The tricks and Band-aids are about used up.”
Beshear’s budget does protect Medicaid, mental health services and veteran’s services from cuts. He wants to send more four year olds to pre-school and hire more social workers.
To meet the bottom line Beshear proposed $286 million in cuts, $245 million in fund transfers and raiding the rainy day fund of $20 million. That would leave only $20 million in the state’s reserve account.
Beshear does not give state workers raises, but he also does not require furloughs, a move he made a year ago. He says there “could be some layoffs,” but if that happens “they won’t be massive.”
As for Lexington projects, Beshear’s budget proposes $3.5 million for Lexington to help re-design downtown, including Rupp Arena. It would require a one and a half million dollar match from the city.
Mayor Jim Gray, who was in the House gallery for Beshear’s speech, would not say where Lexington would get the money. “This is a big endorsement of our project,” Gray told ABC 36 News. “It's a big endorsement of jobs and economic development in downtown Lexington. And, I'm just very excited about what the governor's done tonight. It's a challenge. I like challenges. I think our city likes challenges.”
Beshear said in a briefing earlier the day with reporters that this does not put Lexington in competition with the University of Kentucky for state money. Beshear’s budget would give UK the authority to explore privatizing the building of new dormitories. It would also give UK the green light to spend $200 million from its own agency bonds for projects on campus.
Beshear said the highways portion of the budget is in better shape than most and he projects about a billion dollars a year on transportation projects. Among those in the budget is completion of the Newtown Pike Extension. That’s $41 million.