Posts Tagged ‘state budget’

The Budget Debate Begins

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014

Like many Kentuckians reviewing their family finances for a potential big purchase this year, state lawmakers are considering how much debt they’re willing to incur to move the state forward.

In his budget address last week, Gov. Steve Beshear proposed $1.96 billion in new debt to help fund a number of construction projects. That would put the state’s debt ratio (the amount of money borrowed as a percentage of the General Fund) at just over 7 percent, slightly above where it stands now and a point higher than the 6 percent debt capacity level favored by some legislators.

During yesterday’s Kentucky Tonight discussion about the budget, the panel debated spending priorities for the state and the best ways to pay for those items. The guests were Sen. Bob Leeper (I-Paducah), chair of the Senate Appropriations and Revenue Committee; Rep. Rick Rand (D-Bedford), chair of the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee; House Minority Whip John Carney (R-Campbellsville); and Sen. Ray Jones (D-Pikeville).

The group raised other concerns about the governor’s budget plan, including paying for the wage increase for teachers and other school personnel like bus drivers and cafeteria workers. Carney, who’s a teacher in Taylor County, applauds the idea but says the raise itself may consume most if not all of the SEEK funding increase proposed for primary and secondary schools. “Some districts would have enough money to cover both that teacher raise and a classified [employee] raise,” explained Carney. “But most districts I’ve spoken to, that would only be enough money to basically do the mandated teacher raise and the local districts then would be subject to have to do the mandated classified raise. So it could be it could be a net loss in some ways, in terms of monies.”

On the revenue side of the budget equation, the panel agreed that tax reform is needed, especially if it can be done in a way to make Kentucky’s business climate competitive with neighboring states. But the group disagreed on expanded gambling as a source of additional revenue: Rand favors the idea, while Carney, Jones, and Leeper oppose it.

Several of the seven House subcommittees that handle budget matters have started collecting testimonies and data that will be folded into the lower chamber’s budget plan. Rep. Rand said he hopes to have that document ready to send to the Senate the first week of March. He challenged his colleagues to be bold in building the new budget. “It’s time to think where do we want to be 10 years from now, 20 years from now, 50 years from now,” Rand said. “If we set our expectations too low, we’re going to get the same thing that we’ve always got.”

Recapping Our Legislative Preview

Monday, January 6th, 2014

It was a wide-ranging and refreshingly cordial discussion with legislative leaders last night as we previewed the General Assembly session that starts today. You can watch the full program here.

The first bills to come out of the House and Senate illustrate the differences between the two chambers and the parties that control them. House Speaker Greg Stumbo (D-Prestonsburg) has proposed House Bill 1 that would raise the minimum wage in Kentucky from $7.25 to $10.10 per hour over the next three years. He said the issue is whether Kentucky workers are able to make a living wage and support their families rather than just a minimum wage. Senate President Robert Stivers (R-Manchester) said HB-1 is unnecessary, noting that a 2007 bill included an automatic trigger to raise Kentucky’s minimum wage if the federal minimum is increased. Rep. Stumbo said he doesn’t want to wait for Washington politicians to make that decision.

Bill Goodman with Kentucky's legislative leaders on the Kentucky Tonight set.[Photo by Steve Shaffer/KET]

Kentucky’s legislative leaders on the Kentucky Tonight set. From left, Rep. Greg Stumbo, Sen. R. J. Palmer, KET host Bill Goodman, Sen. Robert Stivers, and Rep. Jeff Hoover.
[Photo by Steve Shaffer/KET]

In the other chamber, Senate Bill 1 proposes a constitutional amendment to limit a governor’s ability to enact administrative regulations. Sen. Stivers said this plan isn’t about how Gov. Steve Beshear handled implementation of the Affordable Care Act and expanding Medicaid, but a more general desire to provide a “check and balance” to executive branch authority in the Commonwealth. The Democrats said they’re open to exploring the issue, but Senate Minority Floor Leader R.J. Palmer (D-Winchester) warned about trying to micro-manage the executive branch from the legislature.

Budget Priorities
As for setting a new state budget, House Minority Floor Leader Jeff Hoover (R-Jamestown) said legislators must first look at education and restore the money that’s been cut there in recent years. But Sen. Stivers countered that funding of the state pension obligation should be the top priority, saying it’s time to “fill in that hole that’s been dug over the past 20 to 25 years.” When a caller asked about funds for the state child care program, Rep. Stumbo said he hopes to be able to restore all or part of that money but isn’t certain where to find the dollars to do so.

Expanded Gambling
On the revenue side of the budget, the key point of discussion was expanded gambling. The panel agreed casino gaming could be enacted by statute, but many lawmakers prefer giving citizens the opportunity to vote on the issue. Rep. Stumbo said such a constitutional amendment should contain clear and simple language and not include a specific benefit to the horse industry, an idea that Rep. Hoover also supported. Sen. Stivers said he’s willing to let the legislative process play out, and if lawmakers want to bring a bill to the floor to expand gambling, he would not prevent that from happening – a significant change in position from his predecessor, former State Senate President (now Circuit Judge) David Williams.

Next up is Gov. Beshear’s State of the Commonwealth address, tonight at 7. You can watch live coverage of the speech on KET and online at KET.org/live.

2014: Bring It On

Monday, December 30th, 2013

I’m not a big fan of “The Best of…” or “12 Favorite Photos of 2013” or “2013: The Year of the…” (insert your favorite superlative here). But even before we say goodbye to the old year, we’re busily preparing to cover the Frankfort political scene when the General Assembly convenes in just a few days.

Are you ready?

In a round of end-of-old-year/first-of-New Year conversations, Gov. Steve Beshear appears eager to welcome legislators back to Frankfort. I spoke with him for One to One and he spelled out an ambitious agenda for the upcoming session, including more funds for the Kentucky education system, state budget concerns that must be addressed, and his thoughts about comprehensive tax reform.

Here’s an excerpt where Beshear discusses his number one priority:

The governor also talks about the difficult, behind-the-scenes work that will be required to address tax reform during the session.

Finally, Beshear explains the challenges he and legislators will face in crafting a new state budget.

You can watch my One to One conversation with Gov. Beshear on Sunday at 1 p.m. on KET.


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