On March 23, legislative leaders began the final stage of writing a two-year state budget that could pass the House and Senate. While it is too soon to say what the finished product will look like, my hope is it is closer to the one the House approved at the beginning of this month.
Even that one did not do as much as I would like, but when compared to the Senate’s and the governor’s, it is the best of the three. That’s because it was the only one to make the right decisions when it comes to properly funding education and our public retirement systems.
The House budget boosted perpupil funding more than the other two and also shielded our public colleges and universities and our schools’ family resource and youth services centers from the 6.25 percent cut that many other state agencies will have to absorb.
The House budget is also the only one to provide tens of millions of dollars of support for health insurance payments our schools have traditionally received; and unlike the Senate, our budget doesn’t put a permanent mechanism in place to fund charter schools at a time when we cannot even afford money for textbooks.
The most significant difference between the House and Senate budgets centers on our public retirement systems. The House’s provides every dollar they say they need, but the Senate’s reduces the teachers’ plan by about $1 billion over the next two years. Such a move would undercut the recent investment success it has had; in fact, it likely would cause the system to sell assets, which in turn would make its liabilities much worse in the years ahead.
Many think this move is retribution for the teachers’ leading role in opposing – and likely killing – Senate Bill 1, the unnecessary pension-reform legislation that has dominated months of discussion in the Capitol.
Legislators with the longest tenure say they have never seen the kind of public opposition this bill has generated. That includes several rallies this legislative session, including one early last week on the steps of the Capitol that featured hundreds of teachers from this region.
Our caucus’ message to them is what we have been saying for months: The bipartisan reforms the General Assembly passed in 2008 and 2013 are working as long as we fund them. There is no need to change course, especially when legal experts say much of what is in Senate Bill 1 is illegal. It is also unwise policy, because it would put an undue strain on many retired teachers living on a fixed income and make it more difficult for schools and state and local governments to attract the workforce they will need in the years ahead.
Budget negotiations were expected to continue early this week with a vote on a compromise expected either by Wednesday, the last day the General Assembly is scheduled to meet. Governor Bevin would then have until mid-April to decide what steps he would like to take. He can sign it into law or reject some or all of it. Once that brief recess is over, legislators will return to the Capitol and wrap up their work by considering whether to accept or reject those vetoes. The budget will then take effect on July 1st.
Although that work has dominated our time in recent days, the General Assembly has also been busy approving, or at least moving forward, several other significant pieces of legislation.
Last week, many others in the House and I supported a bill that would increase death benefits for those state and local government employees killed while doing their job. This principally affects our police, firefighters and other emergency workers, but covers others as well. It is a small price to pay for their dedicated service and sacrifice on our behalf.
There is a bill set to become law that I worry will not move Kentucky forward. It will make it tougher for the Attorney General’s office to go after large compa- nies like those that have recklessly poured painkillers into the commonwealth. This legislation sets a limit on how much outside law firms with needed expertise can earn in cases that the state initiates, making it less likely they will want to take part.
As I mentioned, the General Assembly only meets for two days this week and two more in mid-April, meaning the 2018 Regular Session is almost over. Even so, there is still much work to be done, both with the budget and numerous other bills awaiting a final decision.
If you would like to let me know your views on any of this legislation, the toll-free message line for me and other legislators is 800-372-7181, and for the hearing-impaired, it is 800- 896-0305. My email, meanwhile, is Angie.Hatton@lrc. ky.gov. You can also find a lot of information on the General Assembly’s website: www.lrc.ky.gov.