FRANKFORT –Last evening the House voted on the two-part budget bill. I voted against the revenue portion of the bill because it guts the state workers health insurance fund, removing $480,000 million from the savings pool, paid by state workers and teachers. The revenue bill also included tax increases and if we are going to raise taxes, we need to do it through total tax reform.
When Governor Bevin presented his budget to the General Assembly in late January, it quickly became clear that his proposed cuts to education would be too much for our schools to handle. While the House budget restores some of those cuts, it is a bandaid approach rather than a long-term plan for growth, with a solid revenue stream to fund education and pensions.
It would reduce elementary and secondary funding by more than $380 million over the next two years and take away almost $160 million more from our colleges and universities. That’s 540 million steps back at a time when it is more critical than ever that we have our students running ahead.
One university president underscored just how devastating the governor’s budget would be when he said that the combined effect of the cuts and additional state-mandated costs would effectively take away a third of his institution’s state revenue in a single year.
There is no way I could ever support a budget that takes this approach. However, I also could not support the plan House leaders offered as a counterpoint. I believe it, too, does too little in many areas and relies too much on a patchwork of one-time or declining sources of revenue.
It also dips much too deeply into the state’s health insurance fund and tobacco-settlement revenues; and it unfortunately maintains many of the governor’s proposed 6.25 percent cuts across a broad section of state government when many agencies are already getting by with less than they were receiving a decade ago.
I believe we can do better, and I am committed to finding a way to achieve that goal in the final budget that is enacted.
I am cautiously optimistic that House leaders have promised to take a serious look at tax reform before the General Assembly adjourns in mid-April. It is much too soon to say what that proposal will look like, but the fact is that our state revenues are not aligned well with our economy and we exempt more than we receive. It is time to take a closer look at those twin issues. At the same time, public input in this process is vitally important.
One element of the House budget that I do agree with is the full funding it provides for our state retirement systems, which continues the promise the General Assembly made when we passed major reforms in 2013.
It is important to remember that these reforms are still in the early stages of a 30-year journey, but as long as we stay on this path, we will continue to see these systems strengthen. Last year, thanks in large part to meeting this goal, they earned between 13 and 15 percent on their investments, a trend we hope will continue.
I also certainly support the budget’s plan to provide more money for additional school-safety measures, an issue that is understandably getting more attention following recent school shootings in Marshall County and in Parkland, Fla.
For now, the budget heads to the Senate, which will decide what changes it may want to make. Legislative leaders from both chambers will then try to come up with a compromise toward the end of the month, and Governor Bevin will have about 10 days to decide whether to sign it into law or veto all or just some portions of it. After the General Assembly considers whether to override those vetoes, the final version will take effect on July 1, the start of the fiscal year.
While budgetary work dominated the House’s schedule last week, there was one other bill to pass that deserves recognition. That legislation, House Bill 1, builds on the recommendations of a bipartisan task force that spent much of last year looking for ways to improve adoption and foster care policies across the state. This bill goes a long way toward making it easier for a child to be placed in a loving home.
Despite having relatively few days left in the legislative session, there is still plenty of time to let me know your views about the budget or any other bill now being considered. My address is Room, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, KY 40601, or you can send me an email at [email protected].
Our toll-free message line is 800-372-7181, and if you have a hearing impairment, it is 800-896-0305.
There is also a lot of information on the General Assembly’s website: www.lrc.ky.gov. If you are on Twitter, our caucus account is @KYHouseDems. We are on Facebook as well