TheTimesTribune.com, Corbin, KY

State News

April 1, 2014

Kentucky budget passed with little debate

CORBIN — By Ronnie Ellis / CNHI News Service

It was almost surreal.

The Kentucky General Assembly, divided between chambers along party lines, overwhelmingly passed a $20-billion, new two-year budget not only on time but with almost no debate.

In past years it wasn’t unusual for budget negotiations to go down to midnight on April 15 with one side or the other threatening to go home without a budget in an attempt to bully the other chamber into accepting is version.

Not this time.

House Majority Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook, said it was the earliest he could remember completing work on the final legislative day of a legislative session.

Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said the Senate would still like to receive the budget from the House sooner – but all in all, “it was a good process.”

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, called the work of negotiators over the weekend on a budget compromise “democracy in action.”

Perhaps it’s a new attitude or perhaps it’s the severe fiscal constraints, or just maybe lawmakers of both parties want to show voters they can get things done in an election year.

“I want to do something I haven’t often done,” Stumbo said in a floor speech. “I want to compliment the Senate.

“The gridlock that has gripped both parties in Washington didn’t come to Kentucky,” Stumbo said. Compromise and negotiation worked – “It was democracy in its purest form.”

Two Democratic Senators criticized specific aspects of the bill but both voted for it. Sen. Walter Blevins, D-Morehead, is displeased that new student fees on the Kentucky Community and Technical College campus must be spent on the campus on which they’re collected rather than being pooled throughout the system.

KCTCS’ top construction priority in previous budgets was to a new building near the Rowan County Industrial Park. There aren’t enough students at Gateway to generate the necessary funding for the new building, Blevins said.

“It’s really going to put a hold on progress in eastern Kentucky, especially in Rowan County,” Blevins said. But like Lexington Democrat Reggie Thomas who isn’t happy funding wasn’t provided for renovation of Rupp Arena, Blevins said there is enough good in the budget that he voted for it.

The budget increases funding for elementary and secondary education by $189 million bringing support to its highest level since passage of the Kentucky Education Reform Act in 1990. But it still lags behind what educators want because funding was frozen for five years while enrollment increased.

Teachers and school employees will receive a required 1 percent raise in the first year and a 2 percent raise in the second. Districts will be allowed to use some funds from such restricted accounts as textbooks and afterschool programs to keep the salary increases within their resources.

State employees will receive tiered pay raises – 5 percent at the lowest paid positions; 3 percent in mid-range salaries; and 1 percent at the top – in the first year and they’ll all receive a 1 percent increase in the second year. The budget makes the full payment to state employees’ retirement fund.

The budget will continue pre-school enrollment at current levels in the first year but increase that from $73 million in the first year to $91 million in the second.

Higher education funding is cut 1.5 percent in the first year and flat-lined in the second at both four-year and KCTCS institutions. But each university will get one capital project from General Fund bonding and one to be financed with its own revenues. KCTCS campuses each get one project – if they can fund it with the fees collected on its campus.

The budget also splits the difference on new debt. The House budget would incur debt at a level of 7.05 percent of revenues while the Senate would have held that to 6.25 percent. The compromise puts it at 6.7 percent.

The budget contains language restricting the governor or constitutional officers from spending more than 55 percent of 2016 appropriations during the first half of that year. That’s to prevent outgoing officers from leaving the cupboard bare when their successors or replacements are elected.

Here are some other highlights:

--$2.3 million for a new dual credit, in-residence high school at Morehead State University;

- -$100,000 for domestic abuse early intervention services in Madison County;

-   -$14.6 million for local health departments’ increased contributions to employee retirement;

-    -$15.9 million in additional funding each year for local Property Valuation Administrators;

-   -$38 million in year one to fund at 100 percent of the federal poverty line child care assistance for working poor parents and -$58 million in the second year to cover families making up to 160 percent of the poverty guideline;

-   -$1.4 million in new equalization funds in year one, $1.5 million in the second for 10 school districts which have enacted an extra 5 cents property tax for building funds;

-   $840,000 for Kentucky State Police to hire back 15 of 25 Trooper R’s, retired but experienced troopers who work on an annual contract and require no training;

-   -$420,000 in the first year and $850,000 in the second so that the Department of Public Advocacy can hire 15 social workers for diversion of drug and first-time offenders.

Rank and file lawmakers will return Monday, April 14 to consider overriding any vetoes by Gov. Steve Beshear.

Legislative leaders will continue to try to negotiate a compromise on a two-year road plan which still hasn’t been passed. But both Stumbo and Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said the road bill won’t contain an increase in the gas tax.

That means about $107 million less for the road fund each year, 40 percent of which goes back to local governments.

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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