TheTimesTribune.com, Corbin, KY

State News

March 11, 2014

A few glimpses into House budget plan

CORBIN — By Ronnie Ellis

CNHI News Service

Monday is typically a light day in the General Assembly – few committee meetings and a late starting time to allow lawmakers to travel back to Frankfort.

But this Monday held an air of expectation as the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee and Democratic leadership prepared to unveil their budget on Tuesday.

But there were hints Monday when A&R Chairman Rick Rand, D-Bedford, indicated the House plan will call for some additional and specific spending – without yet identifying where the money will come from.

Gov. Steve Beshear proposed a tight budget with increases of about $189 million for public schools, full funding of the annually required amount for state pensions and raising state workers’ pay by 2 percent in the first year and 1 percent in the second.

But he balances the two-year, $20 billion budget by cutting other agencies and programs. After budget cuts totaling $1.6 billion during the past seven years, a lot of agencies and those who rely on state programs are calling on lawmakers for help.

Democrats in the House appear to have heard judging from the preliminary look at spending plans.

The House budget will up spending for state parks, prosecutors, some social welfare programs and substance abuse treatment, the latter paid for by savings in the corrections budget stemming from sentencing and parole reforms.

Rand said where that money comes from would be revealed Tuesday when the budget bill is voted out of his committee.

Apparently some of it comes from directing some offices and agencies on specific spending of some funds, including Republican Agriculture Commissioner James Comer. House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said Comer’s department has a large “contingency” fund and the budget will direct him to spend about half that on specific programs.

Stumbo also said there will be other instances like that in the budget and the use of Comer’s contingency fund is not a political move. Comer is considered a likely candidate for governor in 2015.

The House budget apparently will provide extra money for Property Valuation Administrators as well. The PVAs wanted to begin assessing fees for special districts like libraries, fire departments and others as they now do with city and county governments for the cost of assessing property for tax purposes. Beshear’s budget proposal assumed that authorization and actually cut the PVAs by $15 million.

But House leaders have heard from the special districts and they aren’t happy, saying they can’t afford the fees. So the House budget plan comes up with the extra money for PVAs.

Like Beshear’s budget, the House plan apparently “sweeps” several dedicated accounts – accounts funded by fees and professional assessments for groups serving specific professions. The House budget does that too but directs Beshear to spend money on such things as prosecutors and case workers for the Department of Public Advocacy.

Stumbo said Monday the bill also contains language directing Education Commissioner Dr. Terry Holliday to forgive school districts up to 10 days of attendance because of lost days because of bad weather.  But Stumbo said he’d prefer that to be done in a separate bill which could get through the General Assembly quicker and provide local districts some planning guidance for their calendars.

Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said he’d prefer some system of calculating the relative need based on how many days various districts lost to bad weather rather than an automatic, blanket policy. But he provided no details on how he’d do that.

RONNIE ELLIS writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at rellis@cnhi.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.

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