The biggest issue of the General Assembly’s 2020 session came to the forefront this week as lawmakers received a state budget proposal from Gov. Andy Beshear.
Now that the proposal is in legislators’ hands, members of budget subcommittees are digging into the two-year spending plan to fully understand how it would impact state finances, programs, and services. They’ll soon start considering the changes they want to make to ensure that the final document they approve is one that a majority of lawmakers agrees best meets the needs of the state. Lawmakers intend to pass a final version of the budget by April 1, a timeline that would ensure they have an opportunity to override any vetoes issued by the governor.
The governor’s spending plan, which was unveiled in a speech Tuesday during a joint session of the General Assembly, was presented as an “Education First” budget that would increase education funding by over $400 million over the next two fiscal years. Included in the plan is a $2,000 pay raise for teachers spread out over two years, a 1 percent increase in the per pupil funding formula for schools and $11 million each year for new textbooks.
Other highlights include funding for an additional 350 state social workers, $5 million each year for preschool programs in disadvantaged areas, and $1 million each year, which would leverage additional federal funds, to enroll more children in the Kentucky Children’s Health Insurance Program (KCHIP.)
The proposal also calls for generating an additional $147.7 million in new revenue, which would be based on taxes and fees on sports betting, a cigarette tax increase, a tax on vaping products, and an increase in the minimum for the limited liability entity tax.
Lawmakers’ reaction to the spending plan varies depending on who you ask. They did not receive the customary briefing on the budget proposal before the governor unveiled the plan, so some expressed reluctance to immediately draw conclusions until they could study it in-depth.
Supporters of the proposal highlighted its potential impact on education, such as the proposed teachers’ raises or a proposed 1 percent increase in postsecondary funding after years of cuts. Those with concerns with the plan pointed to its reliance on proposed tax increases that have not yet mustered the support to be passed into law. Some also noted that the governor’s plan doesn’t provide for additional school resource officers and school counselors that were envisioned when lawmakers approved a sweeping school safety bill last year, although the governor’s plan does include $18.2 million for school security upgrades.
While the arrival of the governor’s budget plan was the big news this past week, a number of other noteworthy issues also took steps forward:
Immigration law. Senate Bill 1 would call upon law enforcement officials and public agencies to use their best efforts, considering available resources, to support the enforcement of federal immigration law. It would also prohibit sanctuary policies in Kentucky or attempts to block officials from cooperating with federal efforts to enforce immigration laws. The bill was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday and now awaits a vote of the full Senate.
Legislative pensions. Senate Bill 6 would rein in legislative pension “spiking” by preventing a pension from dramatically increasing when a lawmaker take a job elsewhere in state government. The measure would prohibit state lawmakers from using salary credited in another state retirement system to determine final compensation in the legislators’ plan. That bill passed the Senate 35-0, with two “pass” votes, and has been delivered to the House for consideration.
Mental health. House Bill 213 would allow homeless teens from ages 16 to 18 to receive outpatient mental health care without parental consent. The measure passed the House 95-0 on Tuesday and now awaits Senate consideration.
School safety. Senate Bill 8 adds to a major school safety measure approved by lawmakers last year. In addition to requiring that school resource officers be armed, the bill would specify which schools are required to have the officers, who produces an active shooter training video and when classroom doors can be left unlocked. The bill passed the Senate 35-1 on Monday and now awaits consideration by the House Education Committee.
Veterans. House Bill 24 would support plans to build a veterans nursing home in Bowling Green. The legislation would appropriate $2.5 million needed to complete design and preconstruction work for the 90-bed facility. That must be completed before federal funding is allocated to start building the proposed $30 million facility. The bill was approved by the House 95-0 on Monday and has been sent to the Senate for consideration.
Kentuckians are encouraged to share their thoughts with lawmakers on the issues under consideration by calling the General Assembly’s toll-free message line at 800-372-7181.