Budget votes full of ‘firsts’ for lawmakers

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FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ) – An austere one-year budget was just one of several “firsts” when the General Assembly convened Wednesday.

FRANKFORT, March 6 — House Minority Whip Angie Hatton, D-Whitesburg, comments on House Bill 352, the Executive Branch budget.

The Senate approved the plan by a 34-0 vote with little discussion.

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The House vote was 80-10.
It marks the first time the state has approved a one-year budget rather than the two-year plan normally required.
The impact of the coronavirus on both revenues and expenses left lawmakers and Gov. Andy Beshear with more questions than answers, forcing the one-year approach.
FRANKFORT, March 17 — Sen. Albert Robinson, R-London, practices social distancing as he watches action on the Senate floor from the rear of the chamber.

Beshear has said he could call a special session in the future once the state has a better idea of costs, revenues and how much money it might recoup from the federal government.

The spending plan takes effect July 1.

The budget includes few increases, no raises, no new social workers, and no increases in education. It is a far different plan from what Beshear proposed three months ago and different that the one the Senate countered with a month ago.

The budget does fully fund teacher and state worker pensions at $1.2 billion dollars, but even that includes some clauses to allow reductions if revenues falter significantly.

The House leadership took several steps to limit the number of people on the House Floor at the same time while still ensuring that members can cast votes on behalf of their constituents.

FRANKFORT, March 12 — Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown (left), and Rep. Deanna Frazier, R-Richmond, present Senate Bill 193, a bill intending to increase participation in computer science courses by underrepresented groups, in the House Small Business & Information Technology Committee.

The changes came after a House legislative staffer tested positive for the coronavirus. The staffer had not been in the Legiuslature since March 16, but the case raised even more awareness and questions about legislators’ safety.

The additional steps included:

  • Convening/Change to House Rules – House members voted in groups of 25 to make a change to House Rules. This served as their vote to convene the legislative day.
  • House Rules – Members adopted a change to the House Rules that allowed them to vote by paper ballot and submit that paper ballot by electronic means to a designated member who was present on the House Floor.
  • Budget – Members could vote on the budget by using a paper ballot, provided by the House Clerk’s Office, and then transmitted that ballot to their designated member. The designated member then formally cast votes on behalf of each individual Caucus member.

While a legislative first, these actions were designed to preserve each district’s right to participate in the budget process. The changes were drafted after research and discussions with legal and public policy sources, including legal scholars, former judges, the National Conference of State Legislatures.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is a historic challenge for our Commonwealth and the Kentucky House of Representatives is willing to take equally historic steps to meet our Constitutional obligations to the people of Kentucky,” Speaker David Osborne added. “I appreciate the support of our Caucus members, House Minority Leadership, and our staff in making it possible to use every tool available to us in order to finish our work.”

ORIGINAL STORY WITH BUDGET DETAILS POSTED TUESDAY ON WTVQ.COM

BY BRUCE SCHREINER, Associated Press

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — In a rare move prompted by the coronavirus pandemic, budget negotiators will present Kentucky legislators with only a one-year state spending plan that holds the line on the main K-12 school funding formula, key lawmakers said Tuesday.

Lawmakers traditionally pass a two-year budget, but economic damage caused by the virus necessitated the “fairly unprecedented move” to a one-year budget, Sen. Chris McDaniel said.

“In these times of both health and financial insecurity, we believe it to be the most prudent decision,” said McDaniel, chairman of the Senate Appropriations and Revenue Committee.

The plan revealed Tuesday doesn’t include pay raise for teachers. Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear has pushed for a $2,000 across-the-board salary boost for teachers — a key campaign pledge that helped him upset the Republican incumbent last year.

Passing a one-year plan would enable lawmakers to meet their constitutional duty of passing a budget while recognizing that no revenue projection “we budget to will be anywhere close to what is correct,” said Rep. Steven Rudy, chairman of the House A&R Committee.

Lawmakers are bracing for a sharp downturn in state tax collections as many Kentucky businesses closed and others scaled back operations because of efforts to curb the virus’s spread. Layoffs have caused filings for unemployment benefits to skyrocket.

As a result, lawmakers have adjusted budget priorities reflected in the spending plan Beshear submitted in January and the budget versions that later passed the House and Senate.

“I think we can all agree the world has certainly changed in the last three months, especially in the last three weeks,” Rudy said.

The GOP-dominated legislature is set to reconvene Wednesday after a nearly weeklong break to take final action on the budget. The spending plan would then go to Beshear. Lawmakers would meet again in mid-April to take up any gubernatorial vetoes.

The new budget would take effect July 1.

“I think they need to pass a budget and get out of town. That’s what I expect them to do,” Beshear said referring to the one-year plan.

When lawmakers convene in early 2021, they can modify the current-year budget and “more accurately craft” a budget for the next year based on revenue trends, Rudy said.

The spending plans presented by Beshear and passed by the House were based on more optimistic forecasts for state tax collections made well before the coronavirus outbreak hit the country.

The version agreed to by House and Senate budget negotiators is built on a more pessimistic forecast projecting about $130 million less revenue in the next fiscal year, Rudy said.

As a result, the one-year plan being presented to lawmakers would maintain the current level of per-pupil funding under SEEK, the state’s main funding formula for K-12 schools, he said. The governor proposed increased SEEK funding, as did the versions passed by the House and Senate.

“Unfortunately, and as bad as this pains me to say this, it will not include any raises for anyone,” Rudy said in discussing education funding.

The negotiated plan fully funds required contributions for public pension systems, Rudy said. Negotiators agreed to another one-year freeze on contribution rates for regional universities and community social services agencies dealing with crushing retirement costs, he said.

In response to the health crisis, the spending plan boosts funding for the state’s coronavirus hotline by $300,000 in the current fiscal year and by more than $800,000 next year, McDaniel said.