The main responsibility the General Assembly has during even-year legislative sessions — passing a two-year budget to run state government — officially begins yesterday (Tuesday) when Governor Bevin presented his proposal during a joint meeting of the House and Senate.
It is too soon to say what will ultimately pass, but we know getting there won’t be easy. After a decade of budget cuts totaling almost $2 billion, and with especially pressing needs in education, healthcare, corrections and our public retirement systems, we have some tough decisions to make between now and mid-April, when the legislative session ends.
My goal is to make sure that the budget we ultimately pass is responsible and fair and does not needlessly cut critical services or undermine the promises made to our public workers and their retirees. Any short-term gain going that route will undoubtedly cost us much more in the long run.
On January 10, state officials announced that this task will not be quite as difficult as we thought last summer. Instead of the estimated $200 million shortfall predicted back then, we are now just slightly ahead of projections thanks in part to significant growth in state revenues last month.
While that is good news, it was tempered on January 12, when Governor Bevin announced that the federal government had approved his administration’s proposed Medicaid waiver. The program will begin implementing major changes this summer on a scale never before allowed since Medicaid began about 50 years ago.
I think this move backtracks on what has been a positive expansion program that has given many of our citizens healthcare for the first time in their lives. Many are working in jobs that do not offer employer-provided health insurance and will now face unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles. The governor’s administration itself projects nearly 100,000 fewer Kentuckians will be covered by the early 2020s.
In a state that ranks near the bottom in such areas as cancer and cardiovascular disease, the Medicaid expansion has been a lifeline that has made it possible for many to catch problems before they become deadly and expensive to treat. It is critical that we do not reverse those gains and wind up paying more for less coverage.
On another healthcare matter, I was proud to join last week with Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes and two of my fellow House members to support legislation that would legalize medical marijuana. We believe it is time to make Kentucky the 30th state where this is allowed, and this year’s House Bill 166 stands as model legislation, because it builds on what has been proven to work.
This issue is important to me, because there is no doubt that medical marijuana would benefit many, and studies show that it can have a positive and significant impact on opioid overdose deaths, which have reached epidemic levels, especially here in Eastern Kentucky.
Next week, I will take a closer look at the governor’s proposed budget and those first bills clearing the House. In the meantime, I want to thank those who have reached out to me here at home or through calls, letters or emails. If you would like to let me know your views on issues affecting Kentucky, you can write to me at Room 429I, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, KY 40601, or just send me an email at Angie.Hatton@lrc.ky.gov.
Our toll-free message line is 800-372-7181, and if you have a hearing impairment, you can call 800-896-0305. To check the progress of bills and more, visit the General Assembly’s website at www.lrc.ky.gov.