The crucial work of crafting the state’s next two-year spending plan began in earnest this week as I joined my House colleagues in dissecting the details of the governor’s budget proposal that he offered on Tuesday, January 26, during a joint session of the House and Senate.
By now, you’ve likely heard highlights from Gov. Bevin’s proposal, including a nine percent cut for most state agencies over the next biennium, and a 4.5 percent cut during the current fiscal year. Some programs and agencies were exempted from these reductions, including Medicaid, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and baseline funding for K-12 education.
The plan also calls for a large infusion of funds – more than $1 billion — to shore up the state’s retirement systems for state employees and teachers, although specifics regarding where these funds will actually came from were not provided. Gov. Bevin indicated that savings could be achieved by his cabinet secretaries as they look for cuts within their own agencies.
Yet there is real pain within this budget, especially for our state colleges and universities who will be faced with reducing their current year spending, with only five months to go in this fiscal year, by 4.5 percent. Cuts at the University of Kentucky, for example, will total $12.4 million this year and $25.2 million next year.
This slash at higher education comes on top of big cuts these important centers of learning have already been asked to absorb during the recession. In turn, tuition costs are rising and enrollment is declining, something our Commonwealth can hardly afford as we struggle to prepare the workforce for the demands of a rapidly changing economy. You can be sure I will be working to protect the interests of Northern Kentucky University and Gateway Community and Technical College as work on the budget continues.
While work on the budget will dominate much of the work in our House over the next several weeks, we continue to consider to hear an increasing number of bills in each committee and are beginning to vote on several that have made it through the process to the House floor.
I was thankful Thursday that the House Economic Development Committee approved legislation I sponsored to help pave the way for more economic development in our region. House Bill 57 will expand the definition of “mixed-use” project, and to delete the upper investment limit on a project that can qualify as a mixed-use development project.
As we left Friday, we approved legislation that will help the survivors of emergency medical services providers and rescue squad members who are killed in the line of duty by making them eligible for a state lump-sum death benefit. House Bill 54, sponsored by Rep. Dean Schamore of Hardinsburg, would also exempt tuition fees at state colleges and universities for affected spouses and children. The measure passed with great support on a 95 -0 vote.
These are but a few of the many bills we are beginning to hear in committee, and as the days progress, I’ll have more details to share. Along the way, I hope you will continue to contact me with your questions and concerns by emailing me at [email protected] or by calling the LRC Message Line at 1-800-372-7181. Throughout this process, the interests of my constituents in Campbell County and the 67th House District are always foremost on my mind, and I am honored to serve you in Frankfort.