Whitesburg KY

How will state’s budget affect Letcher County? Who knows?

The never-ending state budget battle got even more convoluted over the weekend after the Kentucky General Assembly overrode two of Gov. Matt Bevin’s vetoes on Friday and just one day later amended that budget, pulling more than $10 million back out of school SEEK funding and giving it to fiscal courts.

Figures put out by the Kentucky Coal County Coalition last week showed the House-Senate conference report on the budget would strip all coal Local Government Economic Development fund money from the coal-producing counties. At the same time, school officials said SEEK money — the amount provided by the state per child enrolled in school — increased by $11 per child under the budget bill Bevin had vetoed — a veto the legislature overrode.

That figure was thrown into doubt again when the Senate stripped the language out of a bill intended to require emergency dispatchers to be trained to give instructions on cardiopulmonary resuscitation on the telephone, and replaced it with an amendment changing the budget just passed.

In addition to the SEEK money transferred in the budget, the amendment approved Saturday would take $7.5 million each year of the biennium from the Coal Fields Endowment Fund, intended for replacing lost coal jobs, and place it back into the Local Government Economic Development Fund.

“It won’t bring us up to where we were last year, but it’ll bring us back up to where we won’t lose that one-and-a-half million dollars over the biennium,” Letcher County Judge/Executive Jim Ward said.

The bill also eliminates the requirement that counties spend at least 30 percent of their coal severance tax money on coal haul roads.

All of the provisions of the bill could still change again. Bevin could still veto bills passed on Saturday, and the legislature would not be able to override those vetoes because it is no longer in session.

The unmined minerals tax money had been taken from the fiscal courts’ LGED funds before and given to the schools. That change would have eliminated Local Government Economic Development Fund money to all coal counties, and cut Local Government Economic Assistance Fund money.

Under the new bill, one hundred percent of all coal severance tax money in excess of state estimates will go the counties to replace the lost LGEA money. That money goes directly in county budgets and is used for such things as jails, parks and recreation.

The bill also allows the Kentucky Teacher Retirement System to pay dependent subsidies to retired teachers under the age of 65 until 2020.

Whether the legislature’s actions are legal remains to be seen. Attorney General Andy Beshear said last week that it is not Constitutional to strip the language out of a bill and replace it with an unrelated law. He filed suit against Bevin and Republican leaders in the legislature after they stripped the language from a sewage management bill and replaced it with a pension bill opposed by teachers and other public employees.

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